When U.S.-led forces invaded Grenada in 1983, troops from six other tiny Caribbean island nations were right behind the Americans. Last week, at a highly contentious International Whaling Commission meeting in London, Grenada and four of its former invaders Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines stood side-by-side with Japan in angry skirmishes with the U.S. and its anti-whaling allies over the future of the earth's largest mammal.
Amid allegations that Japan had bought the votes of the five island states, as well as those of St. Kitts and Nevis and other small, poor nations in its drive to repeal the IWC's 1986 ban on commercial whaling, delegates from 37 voting countries clashed bitterly over new sanctuaries, the culling of minke whales, the return of prodigal Iceland to the fold and numerous fine points of order and procedure. With its ally Norway playing the "good cop," Japan was the "bad cop" as the two whaling powers piled on the pressure.
"IWC meetings have always been contentious, but it's getting worse," observed Patricia Forkan, senior vice president of the Humane Society International. "The pro-whaling lobby is bringing in countries with no history with the IWC, or even with whaling. Their job appears to be to filibuster, confound and confuse to influence voters by the sheer number of words spoken." And, she might have added, sheer number of people present. Japan had a team of 50 twice that of the next largest, those of the U.S. and Britain.
Japan's tactics didn't work this year. For the world's biggest foreign aid donor of the past decade, the votes just weren't there. But in the whaling commission set up in 1946 to provide for the conservation of whale stocks and promote orderly development of the whaling industry there is always another meeting. Next May on its home turf the southern whaling port of Shimonoseki Japan will battle on.
Japan, Norway and their allies did win two big fights, blocking the creation of new whale sanctuaries in the South Atlantic and the South Pacific. "There is no scientific basis for sanctuaries," said Minoru Morimoto, Japan's commissioner. His country is the only one that kills whales ostensibly for scientific research in the Southern Ocean sanctuary, established in 1994. While research is permitted, anti-whaling nations say there is no reason why it has to be lethal. Many campaigners consider the science little more than a cover for commercial whaling. Japan denies that, and says its studies of the impact of whale appetites on fish stocks are important. "Blaming whales for eating too many fish is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation," responds Greenpeace.
The diplomatic wrangle of the week, though, was the commission's decision to admit Iceland only as an observer. Iceland walked out of the IWC in 1992, saying it never expected the 1986 moratorium to be in place that long. Last month, Iceland wanted back in while saying it reserved the right to resume whale hunting if it decided the populations were strong enough. That caveat was enough for a majority of the commission to deny the country a vote. Counting Iceland in their camp nonetheless, Japan and its supporters "corrected" the record on subsequent votes.
And for the 14th year in a row, Japan failed to win approval for the killing of 50 minke whales by four traditional whaling ports along its Pacific coast. Just before the conference opened, Masayuki Komatsu, a top Fisheries Agency official and one of the Japanese delegation's alternate IWC commissioners, termed the small, speedy minke "the cockroach of the oceans."
Komatsu also stirred controversy by voicing what environmental campaigners had long asserted that Japan uses international aid to "get understanding" in developing nations. In each of the past 10 years, that has amounted to roughly $10 billion. "Japan has clearly had some success in getting countries to join on its side of the argument, and that has changed the balance of the commission somewhat," acknowledged New Zealand's commissioner, Jim McLay. Waiting in the wings and thought likely to join the IWC are Namibia, Gabon and Senegal. "We'll see who shows up next time," said McLay.
Those who do show up in Shimonoseki will find themselves in a port famous for fugu, the poisonous Japanese blowfish that can be fatal if not prepared properly. Another highlight, in the new marine science museum, is an exhibit on loan from Norway the 24-m skeleton of a blue whale.