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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 2006: Tonga whaling interest

There's lots I want to write about at the moment, but due to a lack of time I'm going to pick just one item. A letter suggesting that Tonga should resume whaling.

The author makes a few statements about Japan's whaling that I can't agree with, but otherwise the letter is very interesting reading:

Tonga’s cultural art of whaling was very quickly done away with by statute in the 1950s because of political pressures from abroad on conservation and environmental issues to ban whaling. This is a classical example of small nations succumbing to more powerful countries because of the funding and financial aid that they are receiving from them.

Today, Tonga is in a financial crisis and it is imperative that we must take stock of all our available resources to see how we can bail ourselves out of this mess. One of these resources is the whales in our waters.

When whaling was permitted in Tonga, there were not even 10 whales killed in Tongatapu for consumption in any given year. In the outer groups of Ha`apai and Vava`u, there were even much less. The whales were hand harpooned and whaling was done by a handful of families who were descendants of whalers who had migrated to Tonga. There was never a year when a total of 15 humpback whales caught in Tonga.

There are countries that continue to catch whales even with the ban from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan uses a loophole in the IWC rules to undertake its whaling program, which it says is for scientific research. Japan’s whaling fleet returned to port the month before with a record haul of 863 whales from the Southern Ocean. Even if we repeal the Tongan whaling statute and provide for a quota system of 100 whales a year, it will not come close to the number of whales Japan is killing every month.

The Indians of North America are allowed to catch whales under a special provision from the Whaling Commission. This is so because the Indians rely on the whale meat to sustain their livelihood and they have done this as part of their culture for generations. How most appropriate would this provision be for Tonga! Those of us that grew up with whale meat can still remember its taste, and the excitement it brought to the whole island when a black flag is seen flying from the whale boats coming back to port during the whaling season.

Whale meat can readily displace the hundreds of thousands tons of mutton flaps that are being dumped in Tonga every year from New Zealand and Australia. When a sheep is butchered, the better parts of the carcass are kept in these countries for consumption, and the flaps are offloaded in Tonga. These imports amount to many millions in a year and it is a big part of the foreign exchange drain. Resuming whaling will ultimately eliminate this or at least cut it down to a minimal.

It is claimed that Tonga now has an expanding whale watching industry that is contributing to the local economy. I do not think this amount to a significant sum. I have never seen a report from Tonga that gives the actual amount of tourist dollars that is generated from visitors that come to Tonga specifically as whale watchers.

A resumed limited industry in Tonga that allows only cultural whaling with hand held harpoons will bring more tourists and photographers than this whale watching nonsense. Tongans overseas will flock to Tonga during the whaling season to taste the meat and take back home some with them. This will be added travel besides the current traffic during Heilala festivals and the Christmas season. It will also attract many more tourists from Japan and other Asian countries. Tonga will also become the world capital for whale bone carvings and jewelry.

The Tongan population is dying away from cardio-vascular diseases and complications due much to the fatty mutton flaps that are being consumed by our people everyday. Deaths in Tonga from these heart diseases have increased by more than 400% in the last couple of decades and it is continuing to rise.

Come on and let us go whaling!

`Ofa atu


Some responses to this original letter have appeared, so I'll post those here as well:
Tofua'a a la carte? Pass me the lusipi instead

Dear Sir

Call me a whale-watcher if you like but ‘Ofa-ki-Tonga’s enthusiasm for whalemeat for the kingdom is unlikely to find favour in this part of the world where killing whales and dolphins for food is seen as barbaric. The recent Japanese success at the IWC was made possible by support from some Pacific nations who took money and changed their stance. And here in New Zealand there is a call for retribution through the withdrawl of aid or something similar.

But the proponents of aid withdrawl do not have it all their way. There is realisation here too that a vote buying war with Japan will leave New Zealand and Australia well behind and will also deprive them of the more important moral high-ground over an issue in which Japan is seen as being at out of step with the rest of the civilised world.

The cryptic messages which are coming through loud and clear in this part of the South Pacific is that the Pacific nations have sold their souls and now one of the world’s most endangered species is about to be fair game. Ironically it is the reported increase in their numbers which has allowed Japan to successfully lobby for easement.

Like ‘Ofa-k-Tonga I’ve had whalemeat too as a youngster in Tonga and I can remember (but not too fondly) the lingering smell of whalemeat for weeks following the kill as the village struggles to eat its way through an over-abundance of protein. And that’s after having given away as much as possible to the next island or two!

When O-K-T suggests that Tonga goes back to whalemeat I had a look around and found this from author Brenda Peterson (National Geographic Books 2002) and I quote:

As indicator species, whales and dolphins show us the health of our oceans. For example, subsistence Arctic whale hunters on Baffin Island have discovered that mothers can no longer nurse their infants because their milk is contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs. According to another International Whaling Commission meeting, reports on contaminant levels in whale meat in Japan "detected mercury some 1,600 times above the government permitted level, as well as large amounts of organic mercury and cadmium in whale meat that is widely available." Expanding whaling hunts and eating whale meat in a time of contaminated whales, some of which now must be buried as "toxic waste," is not only bad business — it is dangerous to our human health.

Cut to Nuku'alofa's Talamahu market menu board: Tofua’a a la carte – tenderest steaks freshly diced and spiced with chilli and mixed herbs. Char-grilled and soy-flavoured to suit the most demanding palate. Naturally garnished with mercury and just a touch of cadmium. Best with wasabe. Enjoy!

Um.. make that two lu sipi to go please.

Sefita Hao’uli

I read with interest comments supporting the resumption of whaling
in the Kingdom.

I would like to make the following commments -

1. The Royal Decree was issued in 1978 by the King, not the 1950's and
was based on scientific studies that indicated that the number of
breeding females had been reduced to a low of 15 animals. Because Tonga
is a breeding and nursery ground for humpback whales it was easy to hunt
the females with young calves rather than chase the males. The impact of
this action is still evident today. Last season we recorded only 9 new
calves in the waters around Vava'u. Old whaling records show an
abundance of humpback whales in the waters around Fiji. Whaling managed
to wipe out this stock and humpback whales no longer migrate to Fiji.

2. There are no records that I have been able to locate either oral or
written to indicate Tongans traditionally hunted whales. Whaling was introduced by the Palangi and as you correctly state then taken up by
Tongans - notably the Cook family in Nuku'alofa. The period of "Tongan"
whaling lasted less than 100 years and from records published became
harder and harder as the number of whales diminished.

3. A study was conducted in 2000 by Dr. Mark Orams from Massey
University in Auckland to determine the financial impact of whale
watching on the economy of the Kingdom and in particular Vava'u. The
study indicated that whale watching generated in excess of $2 million
and today that figure would be closer to $3 million. From a zero base in
1993, when whale watching commenced in Vava'u, we now have a major tourist attraction that has gained a worldwide reputation and continues
to grow bringing benefits to the whole community. I would be happy to
supply a copy of the study.

4. If the Government did allow whaling to resume the whale watching
industry would collapse and to suggest that this would be replaced by more tourists coming to witness and photograph the killing of whales is ludicrous. The majority of the world deplore killing the whales. It is illegal to import whale meat into the U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand
and whale bone carving importation is also banned under the C.I.T.E.S.
agreement. Therefore to suggest a market exists for these products that
are illegal to import is unrealistic.

5. Tongans consumme mutton flaps as this is all they can afford. The
market is driven by demand and has nothing to do with dumping.

6. Heart disease and diabetes are major problems facing the Tongan
population but this is the product of a multitude of factors. Replacing
sipi with whale meat will not solve this issue.

Whales have become a very emotional and political issue.

Malo 'aupito.

Allan Bowe
Tonga Whale Watch Operators Association.
Honiara, Solomon Islands:


Solomon Islands was one of the countries that voted with Japan on the pro-whaling debate which won a majority vote over the last couple of days. Sadly, again, the Minister of Fisheries for Solomon Islands, Mr. Nollen Leni went against his government and cabinet’s decision to ‘abstain’ from voting, disobeying a cabinet directive and he is yet to face the consequences when he comes back here in a few days time.

Last year, Solomon Islands unfortunately was humiliated on the world stage in identical circumstance when the then Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Mr. Paul Maenu’u, disobeyed the exact same directive and voted with Japan in the last IWC meeting. That minister was sacked as a result of that disobedience.

One wonders why a government minister would choose to end his career by voting against his government’s directive in such a public manner. One can only assume that the ‘remuneration’ of voting for Japan, far outweigh any personal (let alone social or otherwise) benefits that he can acquire for himself and his constituents by remaining a government minister.

I applaud the Tongan delegates sent to the IWC meeting in being able to withstand what must have been a very ‘persuasive’ offer to contradict country and government directions and kept to the program of voting against whaling for the benefit of the whole country and economy, instead of short term personal gain.

Unfortunately ‘Ofa-ki-Tonga, four cows in the paddock might constitute a sustainable milk supply, but by no means a fully fledged dairy industry, that Industry is the dream. Slaughter the poor things, and you’ll end up with four villages fed for two days, and a memory of another ‘extinct specie’ that used to be.

M. Havea
And finally, this letter is from me:

Dear Sir,

It is unfortunate that M. Havea chooses to reinforce the offensive allegations that more than 2 dozen small island and developing nations voted in favour of the sustainable use of the world's whale resources at the recent IWC meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis because of financial incentives from Japan.

Is it not enough that these nations have to suffer the annual economic threats of tourism boycotts without accusing them of perpetual corruption as well? Have we lost sight of the possibility that these nations vote the way they do each year because they actually believe in the principle of sustainable use?

People of in two of the Caribbean nations accused of taking bribes (St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia) actually consume cetaceans themselves, just as some people in the Solomon Islands consume small cetaceans on a sustainable basis.

Havea also commends Tonga's delegates to the IWC for refraining from taking the alleged bribes. In fact, Tonga is not a member of the IWC, and thus does not get a vote.

It would be a wonderful day when the peoples of the world's island and developing nations can support each other without repeating the offensive allegations made by powerful self-interested NGO groups based in developed western nations.
My letter (above) has been published :-)
No doubt the Tongans would go whaling in their own waters, and not send fleets of ships to the far side of the Pacific, and rape the ocean there, like Japan does.

I live in Japan and am sympathetic to Japan on most issues. But even Japanese people don't want to eat whale anymore. There are warehouses full of whalemeat that cannot be sold. The whaling issue has become a matter of pride for Japan.

Various nations including Japan signed the whaling convention. The anti-whaling nations have nothing to complain about:
a) they signed this convention in the first place
b) they remain party to this convention today
c) various northern hemisphere nations besides Japan have hunted whales in the Antarctic in the past.

It seems very very odd indeed for anti-whalers to suddenly be complaining about these rules now. Why weren't people complaining about the other northern hemisphere nations whaling in the southern hemisphere? What is so special about Japan? Is it because Japan hunts whales for food rather than oil?

> But even Japanese people don't want to eat whale anymore.

This is a gross generalisation. The fact is that many people in Japan who would eat whale meat if it were available in their local area.

> There are warehouses full of whalemeat that cannot be sold.

A new company has just recently been established to create new supply chains for the additional supply of whale meat.

The JARPA II programme has just started, and it has resulted in a substantial increase in the amount of whale meat available.
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