...and Swallowing a Whale
The whale-killers have a new heroine. She is a a pretty, petite lawyer, Joanne Massiah, a senator in the Antigua Parliament who possesses a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue.
At the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in St Kitts last week, Ms Massiah led the Caribbean delegations in a fierce rhetorical attack on their perceived enemies - countries like Britain, France, the United States, India, Mexico and Brazil. These countries are all opposed to the legalisation of whaling as demanded by Japan and her Caribbean and other allies.
All were tarred by the Caribbean orators with the same brush. They were perceived to be racist, imperialist and dismissive of the cultures of small nations. The Brazilians and their 'like-minded' friends protested time and again about the language used to describe them, but this did not stop the fiercely eloquent Caribbean partisans.
They were roused to particular fury when the black delegate from Martinique, Mme Grandmaison, announced that Martinique and Guadeloupe, part of France, would establish a whale sanctuary in their exclusive economic zones, bordering on several Eastern Caribbean nations.
Wada, Japan - Japanese spectators watch a Beard's Beaked whale being slaughtered in the Japanese port city of Wada on June 21, 2006. The whaling firm is one of eight coastal whaling operations in Japan that hunt Beard's Beaked and pilot whales, species not subject to the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Pro-whaling nations, including Japan, last week edged closer toward their goal of resuming commercial whale hunts at the IWC's annual meeting in St Kitts, passing a symbolic resolution to support ending a 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling. (Photo: AP)
According to Barbadian journalist Tony Best, Senator Massiah had become known at the IWC "for using the most eloquent of phrases and a calm tone to get her points across; so much so that even opponents of sustainable use of the world's marine resources, a policy she champions, felt compelled the other day in Basseterre to cheer her intervention, not because they agreed with her arguments but because of the sheer force of her words and their own inability to muster a comeback".
The problem was that the like-minded nations saw no point in making a comeback against arguments which were largely irrelevant, if often entertaining and provoking and not at all calm.
It was odd to hear Senator Massiah, who is alleged to be a vegetarian, defending the sacred right of people to eat whales, justifying the Biblical warning about "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel" or in this case, a whale. But neither Miss Massiah nor her associates will be legally able to eat whale meat just yet.
That is despite the widely proclaimed victory of the whale-killing lobby on the second to last day of the conference. Many of the world's leading news agencies were hornswoggled by the whale-killers' propaganda. Interpress services reported: "TOKYO, Jun 20 (IPS) - A closely contested vote on Sunday that gave whaling countries led by Japan, an edge over opponents, has been hailed here as a landmark in turning the tide against an international ban and boosting the domestic fisheries industry."
Since IPS was writing from Japan, one may forgive them, but the Independent of London also got it wrong, as did several other reporters who listened too closely to the whale-killers' anti-siren songs.
What happened on Sunday was a masterpiece in mischief and double-dealing. The Caribbean delegates suggested that it would be nice to have a terminal "declaration" that everyone could sign on to. It would be a "Declaration of St Kitts" in the style of other international meetings, representing a consensus. It would, the 'like-minded' countries were told, be non-controversial and harmless.
When it came to the floor, after at least one revision, the Declaration was a straightforward denunciation of the anti-legalisation group. Some countries protested at the deception and at the presentation of the declaration as a resolution. It was however accepted by the chair as a resolution and voted on.
The result, the whale-killers won by one vote.
But the Declaration was meaningless. All it represented was Japan's ability to get its automatic voting bloc in line. The real result of the conference was contained in four policy resolutions, all of which were lost by the whale-killers. And, even if they had won those votes, it would have changed nothing, since overturning the moratorium on whaling requires a three-quarters majority which the Japanese clearly cannot muster without recruiting another dozen or so destitute nations to vote on their behalf.
There was an interesting sidelight to this recuitment. People witnessed a Japanese delegate rushing to the Secretariat to hand over piles of cash to register the late-coming delegate from Togo, whose vote gave the whale-killers their 'victory' in the Declaration of St Kitts.
It is the destitution of the Third World which should have been the real concern of the whale-killing lobby. The Caribbean delegates, having declared war on the anti-legalisation group, had one more trick up their sleeves.
According to another resolution by St Kitts, the Commission was urged to note "the urgent nature of the economic difficulties of the Government of St Kitts and Nevis resulting from the closure of its sugar industry and the failed materialisation of promised financial aid" and to realise that St Kitts, unable to meet some of the financial obligations related to the hosting of the conference, asked the Commission for a grant of £385,406 from the IWC to St Kitts. That is J$46 million or EC$15 million. The amount was required to "meet some of the financial obligations related to the hosting of the IWC".
The St Kitts request would effectively more than double the IWC's normal cost for holding its annual meetings. As someone unkindly pointed out, St Kitts had competed vigorously and successfully against La Rochelle, France, for the chance to hold this meeting.
As it happened, the vote on increasing the subsidy was a tie, so St Kitts will have to appeal either to Caricom or to its Japanese friends for the money.
It is possible, I believe, that notwithstanding St Kitts' position on whaling they might have got the money had the Caribbean spokesmen not been so gratuitously offensive to the like-minded group, who, I beg you to remember, includes such as India, Mexico and Brazil.
The urge to eat whale meat or to be allowed to slaughter whales comes out of a misconception. The Caribbean and Pacific clients of Japan appealed piteously for the legalisation of whaling to restore the rights of local communities to their coastal resources. "We want to eat, we want to survive," one South Pacific delegate whined.
The problem is that whales are not the coastal resource of any nation. They roam the oceans without passports and are part of the natural heritage of life. Despite this, the Japanese insist on their right to 'scientific whaling' - an enterprise, they say, which will give them information allowing them to harvest whales more sustainably.
Japanese sustainabilityJapanese ideas of sustainability may be gauged from the following paragraph, taken from the Japanese's own report on one of their scientific expeditions - JARPN II.
"Based on results from the two-year feasibility study carried out in 2002 and 2003 the coastal component was revised to be conducted twice a year and to sample 60 common minke whales in each spring and autumn.We are talking about sustainability, which means using resources without wasting them, making sure that the species will continue to reproduce and maintain itself. Sustainability must clearly include allowing the species time to breed and allowing the young to come to maturity and breed. How can it be sustainable to kill 15 immature males, nearly two-thirds of the male catch?
"During the whale sampling, almost 5,250 nautical miles were surveyed, 202 schools (205 individuals) of common minke whales were detected and 60 animals were caught (23 males and 37 females). Of the males eight were sexually mature while 14 of the females had attained sexual maturity and all but one was pregnant."
But worse follows: only 14 of the females were sexually mature - just over one in three, and all of the mature females, except for ONE, were pregnant.
The Japanese have been "scientifically" slaughtering whales now for two decades. Is it possible that after that period of scientific enquiry and thousands of whales killed, they still cannot tell the difference between mature and immature whales, or more important, between mature and immature females, and most important and baffling of all, between pregnant and fallow females?
We have to find something more expressive than 'boggle' for the contortions the mind undergoes on apprehending these facts, provided by the Japanese themselves.
The IWC forbids the killing of whale calves and their nursing mothers, except that this is how they kill whales in Becquia, St Vincent. But Becquia is allowed just two whales a year on the ground of 'aboriginal tradition' going back all of 148 years. The Japanese have been whaling for millennia, and began factory ship whaling relatively recently, to supplement diets deficient in protein after the debacle of the Second World War.
The Japanese are among the richest nations on earth, and no longer need whale meat. Some of what they catch goes for pet food, some is warehoused. The real reason for their intransigence on whaling is to finesse the possibility of restrictions on fishing.
The Japanese and many European countries and the Canadians have already strip-mined the ocean, vacuuming it of several species including the Canadian cod. Now, some of these same nations send out pirate vessels to steal fish from the Atlantic fisheries of West African nations.
Recently Greenpeace has been helping these West African nations defend their local marine assets and have helped arrest European pirate ships and confiscated their cargo for the benefit of the plundered nations. Some of these same plundered nations want to terminate Greenpeace's 'Observer' status at the IWC, while neglecting to lobby on behalf of their own fisheries, which produce food their people actually eat. Instead, they are swinging along with Japan, advancing arguments which are eventually counter-productive to their own real interest.
In the Caribbean, it is clear that the people of the islands do not agree with their politicians and bureaucrats in supporting the legalisation of whaling. As I reported last week, in Miss Massiah's Antigua, 80 per cent of the people polled disagreed with their government and there were absolute majorities against whaling in St Kitts and St Lucia. Only in Grenada did whale-killing sentiments come close to prevailing with 40 per cent for and 39 per cent against legalisation.
Curiously, in St Kitts, the people we met were either against whaling or non-committal, saying they didn't know enough to express an opinion. In a highly literate, extremely rational population it was strange therefore that many people did not wish to be quoted and appeared to be afraid of something when I spoke to them.
Perhaps it was my face that frightened them.
We will probably never know. But I wonder where St Kitts is going to find EC$15 million. Will Caricom oblige? And if it does, will the like-minded nations regard that as an endorsement of the behaviour of their smaller brethren?
One of the Eastern Caribbean delegates told me that part of their problem was that the Marriott hotel had overcharged them for the conference facilities. I would have thought that such a modern, God-fearing company as the Marriott should find this particular whale a lot easier to swallow than the people of St Kitts or of Caricom.
Or perhaps Mr Sanford, Antigua's resident Texas millionaire, might oblige?