Japan cancels whaling expedition: go celebrate!


IWC Brighton
July, 1982. Sid­ney Holt, David McTag­gart, and Iain MacPhail cel­e­brate the pas­sage of the mora­to­ri­um on com­mer­cial whal­ing by the Inter­na­tion­al Whal­ing Com­mis­sion.

To: David McTag­gart
Hon. Chair­man, Green­peace Inter­na­tion­al

Dear David,

About half an hour ago, I heard that Japan can­celled its 2014/2015 voy­age to the South­ern Ocean to kill whales for “Sci­en­tific Research,” an announce­ment which would have sent you over the moon with jubi­la­tion.

The first image that flashed into my head was the pic­ture at right from July of 1982. You were cel­e­brat­ing the hard-won vic­to­ry in the Inter­na­tion­al Whal­ing Com­mis­sion, when they declared a mora­to­ri­um on com­mer­cial whal­ing — the cul­mi­na­tion of years of work that you, Green­peace, and dozens of oth­er groups and indi­vid­u­als had done in pub­lic, as well as behind the sce­nes, below the decks, and under the table. At the time, you thought that was it, that you’d won, and that Japan’s whal­ing pro­gram­me was over.

It wasn’t, of course. Japan would sim­ply dis­guise their pro­gram­me as sci­ence. You and Green­peace would fight on — you to the end of your days, Green­peace for decades after you passed, along with an entire move­ment that sprung up from those first mist-shroud­ed voy­ages to save the whales.

Today’s announce­ment means that whales in the South­ern Ocean won’t be hunt­ed for the first time in 110 years. We don’t know for sure that Japan has given up entire­ly. They’ve said they’ll “com­ply” with the Inter­na­tion­al Court of Jus­tice rul­ing which declared their cur­rent pro­gram­me, in effect, a sham which con­tribut­ed noth­ing to sci­ence and killed more whales than sci­ence would need. The Japan­ese Fish­eries Agen­cy could still, as they did in 1982, find a loop­hole big enough to fire a har­poon through, but not this year. The har­poons will stay hood­ed, the fac­to­ry ship Nis­sh­in Maru will remain moored, and thou­sands … tens of thou­sands… mil­lions of peo­ple who worked for this day will cel­e­brate.

If you were alive, I can only imag­ine how many rum and cokes and bot­tles of cham­pag­ne you’d pow­er through tonight. But I know right now you’d be on the phone, and writ­ing let­ters, and crow­ing to the press, and say­ing thank yous. You’d be thank­ing Paul Spong for con­vinc­ing Green­peace to launch a Save the Whales cam­paign in 1973, Bob Hunter for com­ing up with the idea of maneu­ver­ing tiny boats between the whales and the whalers and so launch­ing the issue as a glob­al “mind bomb” across tele­vi­sion sets the world over. You’d thank Paul Wat­son for the auda­cious courage he showed with Green­peace and with Sea Shep­herd to end the hunt (yes, you’d have swal­lowed a lot of pride, but you’d have done that), and while you were clench­ing your teeth you’d thank Pete Wilkin­son and Alan Thorn­ton who were great gen­er­als in the war for the whales even if you fell out over their resis­tance to your com­mand. You’d have thanked Rex Weyler and Fred Eas­t­on whose lens­es caught those first images of whales dying at sea and the hero­ics of those who sought to spare them. You’d have remem­bered how you and Bryan Adams leaflet­ed an entire the­atre in Japan when he was play­ing a con­cert there, urg­ing the young peo­ple of Japan to speak out again­st the whalers.

You’d have thanked oth­er musi­cians, from Leonard Bern­stein to Paul McCart­ney to Peter Gabriel to the Water­boys to Mid­night Oil to U2 to Steve van Zandt. You’d have appre­ci­at­ed how sup­port for this cause had cut across soci­ety, from the peo­ple in the streets to roy­al­ty like Prince Charles and Prince Sad­drud­in Aga Khan, adven­tur­ers like Jacques Cousteau and Sir Peter Scott. You’d have thanked Kier­an Mul­vaney and Sara Hold­en and Dave Wal­sh and John Bowler and Kar­li Thomas and Frank Kamp and Irene Berg and Grace O’Sullivan and Andrew Davies and Black Bob and Heath Han­son and Pete Bou­quet and every­one who ever sailed aboard a Green­peace ves­sel into those cold Antarc­tic waters to play cat and mouse with the catcher ships, every­one who ever signed a peti­tion or sent a post­card or donat­ed to IFAW or WWF or Friends of the Earth or Earth Island or the Cetacean Soci­ety or Green­peace or any of the NGOs that worked the trench­es to Save the Whales. You’d have told peo­ple to raise a glass to Sid­ney Holt and Camp­bell Plow­den and Michael Nielsen and Leslie Bus­by and Remi Par­men­tier and John Frizell, who ded­i­cat­ed most of their lives to this cause and spent end­less hours in hor­ri­ble meet­ing rooms count­ing votes and lin­ing up polit­i­cal sup­port for var­i­ous par­lia­men­tary judo moves in attempt to coun­ter the bribery and pork projects that the Japan­ese Fish­eries agen­cy brought to bear to buy votes they couldn’t win. You’d have tipped your hat to Steve Sawyer, Kel­ly Rigg, Pat­ti Forkan, Cas­san­dra Phillips, Domi­t­il­la Sen­ni, Michi Math­i­as, Anne Ding­wall, Elaine Lawrence, Cor­nelia Dur­rant, Lyall Wat­son, to Bill de la Mare and Justin Cooke, to the sci­en­tists who mod­elled whale pop­u­la­tions, the politi­cians who had won easy points and made tough stands, the film­mak­ers who had made films and the writ­ers who had writ­ten books and the artists who had cre­at­ed art. You’d have cov­ered your ass about all the names you for­got or left out by men­tion­ing the fact that you’d need an ency­clo­pe­dia to fit all the names of every­one who did their part, and every­one who walked for whales, fast­ed for whales, went to jail for whales, baked for whales, did Karaoke for whales, swam for whales, or ran for whales.

You’d have a spe­cial place for praise for the ded­i­ca­tion and sac­ri­fice of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki of Green­peace Japan who endured arrest, ostra­ciza­tion, and ridicule in their own coun­try for expos­ing the theft of sub­si­dized whale meat to line the pock­ets of cor­rupt offi­cials, only to have them­selves accused of theft for pre­sent­ing the evi­dence. And you’d have thanked Peter Gar­rett and the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment of Mark Rudd for hav­ing the balls to go to court again­st Japan and the legal smarts to actu­al­ly win that high-stakes gam­ble.

And final­ly, you’d have told them all to do exact­ly what you scrawled across that 1982 pic­ture: “Cel­e­brate.”

Cel­e­brate a vic­to­ry for a threat­ened plan­et, and the hope it sug­gests that if we can save the whales, we can save the world. Cel­e­brate the pow­er of glob­al move­ments, and the patience and per­sis­tence it takes to see the arc of his­to­ry bend toward jus­tice. Cel­e­brate activism, dis­obe­di­ence, speak­ing up and act­ing out. Cel­e­brate courage, and cre­ativ­i­ty, poet­ry and song.

That would have been rough­ly the let­ter you’d have writ­ten, or dic­tat­ed to me to write for you.

Rest easy, David, and let’s just say you wrote it. Now, let’s you and me go get a drink, know­ing there’s a bunch of peo­ple out there rais­ing a glass in return to you, and to the cussed ded­i­ca­tion with which you worked for this day.

Cheers, you old goat. We won.




38 thoughts on “Japan cancels whaling expedition: go celebrate!”

  1. I am as hap­py as any­one about the World Court’s deci­sion ban­ning Japan’s ‘research’ whal­ing in the South­ern Ocean. How­ev­er, Green­peace should tem­per its self-con­grat­u­la­to­ry state­ments.

    Green­peace put whal­ing on the pub­lic radar with its spec­tac­u­lar con­fronta­tions in the late ‘70s. The­se gal­va­nized world opin­ion and con­tribut­ed sub­stan­tial­ly to the 1986 mora­to­ri­um. Cred­it should go to: Paul Spong, who ini­ti­at­ed the whale cam­paign (who even remem­bers him: a qui­et, effec­tive man among all the loud egos); Bob Hunter, ear­ly Greenpeace’s spir­i­tu­al guru; and the orig­i­nal Van­cou­ver tribe. 

    Since then Green­peace has not lived up to the promise of its bril­liant start. Indeed, a strong case can be made that Green­peace has betrayed its orig­i­nal ide­als and the expec­ta­tions of its mem­bers. Two exam­ples:

    1. In 2010 Green­peace co-spon­sored the ‘whal­ing peace plan’ at the IWC. This would have legit­imized com­mer­cial whal­ing. Had it passed the recent court deci­sion could nev­er have hap­pened. Luck­i­ly the nation­al del­e­ga­tions defeat­ed this sor­ry capit­u­la­tion to the whalers.

    2. ‘Green­peace is not opposed to whal­ing in prin­ci­ple.’
    — John Frizell, from the Green­peace Pol­i­cy Paper 1994

    In oth­er words, its ok so long as it is done ‘respon­si­bly’ in a way that does not dimin­ish whale ‘stocks’ or undu­ly dis­rupt the marine ecosys­tem.

    Whal­ing is not a resource man­age­ment issue. Whales are not just endan­gered ani­mals, or mere­ly a com­po­nent of ocean­ic ecol­o­gy. They also have a unique intel­li­gence poten­tial and may embody a ‘mind in the waters’ of our 70% ocean world.

    All whales have big­ger brains than ours (six times larg­er in the case of sperm whales). In some species the cere­bral cor­tex, site of abstract thought and high­er emo­tions, is more com­plex­ly con­vo­lut­ed than ours. Some also pos­sess spe­cial ‘spindle’ neu­rons, a trait oth­er­wise found only in the great apes and human beings.

    Brains are meta­bol­i­cal­ly very expen­sive. The three-pound human brain con­sti­tutes 2% of our (aver­age) body mass, but con­sumes 20% of its blood sug­ar and oxy­gen. It seems unlike­ly that such an ener­gy-inten­sive organ would evolve in the whales and have no pur­pose or val­ue.

    All of this is cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence, inad­mis­si­ble in any court of law. But it is sug­ges­tive. It seems plau­si­ble that an advanced aware­ness could have evolved in the oceans over the last thir­ty mil­lion years. Obvi­ous­ly it would dif­fer from ours. Per­haps the­se ‘arm­less Bud­dhas’ have devel­oped a tele­pathic rather than a tech­no­log­i­cal form of intel­li­gence. We don’t under­stand the nature of cetacean con­scious­ness, but should respect the like­li­hood that it is high­ly evolved. We cer­tain­ly should not be killing them for lunch, or any oth­er rea­son, as long as we remain igno­rant of their true evo­lu­tion­ary sta­tus.

    Green­peace has rushed to judg­ment on the intel­li­gence ques­tion before the evi­dence is in. It has thus lost any claim to sci­en­tific objec­tiv­i­ty and eth­i­cal­ly dis­graced itself.

    What­ev­er its past glo­ries, Green­peace had lit­tle to do with the recent deci­sion. It was the Sea Shepherd’s coura­geous cam­paigns that elec­tri­fied Aus­tralian pub­lic opin­ion, which in turn prompt­ed its gov­ern­ment to take Japan to court. 

    Green­peac­ers past and present should cel­e­brate this vic­to­ry but not try to grab cred­it for it. It is enough that this crime has been stopped. It should not become an occa­sion for unwar­rant­ed ego infla­tion.

  2. right on. and to the mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide who marched, signed pledges, wrote let­ters, and nev­er gave up the fight.

    1. I’ve only just found this arti­cle, Bri­an, being old and not used to Face­book. I want to join oth­ers in express­ing my deep appre­ci­a­tion to you for writ­ing it. It is a spec­tac­u­lar­ly fine ‘memo­ri­al’. . Inevitably a few miss­ing names but even you can’t be per­fect! Very best to you, and thank you. Sid­ney Holt

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