Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Whale of a Tale

Alaskan whale-hunters recently found embedded in the blubber of their catch "a 3-1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile" like those a whaler would shoot "from a heavy shoulder gun around 1890." The discovery, which means that the 50-ton leviathan was as much as 130 years old, serves to remind that whaling continues well over a century after the heyday of Moby Dick. For the last 60 years, however, the industry's been monitored by the Cambridge, England-based International Whaling Commission established pursuant to the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, to which 77 countries, including the United States, are parties. (For news of another ocean-related treaty regime see below.)
In keeping with its mission of managing and conserving the world's cetacean population, in the 1980s the Commission imposed what it called a "'pause'" on commercial whaling. Revision of that moratorium has moved slowly, and not quickly enough for 1 maritime member state, Japan. There whaling is a nationalist cause supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japan Times. reports, and "forever linked with the hypocrisy of the West and the perceived humiliation of having to enter the modern world under pressure from U.S. gunboats." As it has for the last 20 years, this month Japan repeated its request for permission to hunt whale in its coastal waters, on cultural grounds, for the next 5 years. The bid failed; indeed, "40 countries passed a resolution condemning Japan's scientific whaling," a practice expected to claim 50 humpbacks this summer. And so the Commission's meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, concluded with the prospect that Japan would withdraw and restart its whaling industry. Some hope that the dispute will end in salutary fashion, with the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism now absent from the treaty regime.

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