for National Geographic News
For the anti-whaling lobby, Japan appears to be its Moby Dick, a foe to be singled out and endlessly pursued.
For example, activists chased Japanese whalers across the Southern Ocean under a full media glare this past winter.
But are the attacks fair, when other nations also engage in substantial amounts of whaling—and unlike Japan, in open defiance of international conventions?
Hunting opponents seeking to influence the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the world regulatory body, at its annual meeting in Santiago, Chile, this week were unequivocal.
Japan is the "head of the zombie and needs to be cut off," said Willie Mackenzie, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace U.K. "It's very, very clear that, internationally, Japan is behind the drive towards commercial whaling."
Japan not only kills the most whales, Mackenzie said, but it is also trying to "undermine" the international moratorium on commercial whaling and challenge the endangered status of some species.
Yet Norway and Iceland also have substantial whaling programs—and do so not under the auspices of research but commercially, flouting IWC rules that have banned such activities since 1986.
"Japanese people feel that, yes, maybe there is a little bit of racism in the way in which we are considered in comparison with the way Norway or other whaling nations are treated," said Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto.
"If Japan continues whaling, we're 'barbarians.' But at the same time, I think Japan is giving its critics the excuse to level those accusations, because the government is simply not coming clean on its whaling policy," she said.
According to IWC figures, Japanese ships killed 866 whales in the 2006-2007 season, a haul that included minke, fin, sei, and sperm whales—the most of any nation. Norway placed second with a total catch of 545 whales.
Whereas Norway and Iceland are both hunting commercially, Japan has at least kept to the letter, if not the spirit, of the IWC moratorium by killing whales under the aegis of scientific research.
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