Greenpeace Launches Non-Lethal Whale Study and Criticizes Japan's Methods

On Wednesday, October 10, Greenpeace announced the launch of the "Great Whale Trail," which tracks humpback whales via satellites. The environmental group financed the tagging of the whales performed by the Cook Islands Whale Research and Opération Cétacés. In the project, Greenpeace will collaborate with scientists to "produce important information on the movements and migratory destinations of humpback whales from small, unrecovered populations off Rarotonga (Cook Islands) and New Caledonia."

In its announcement, Greenpeace also criticized Japan's yearly killing of a thousand whales in the name of research, which is reiterated on the project's Web page: "Greenpeace is communicating this critical non-lethal scientific research to the wider public as part of their campaign against Japan's unnecessary lethal 'research' in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary…The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was meant to be a safe haven but every year the Fisheries Agency of Japan send a fleet of whaling ships to kill in the name of science. For the third year running they aim to hunt down almost 1,000 minke whales. This year, they also plan to kill 50 threatened humpback whales and 50 endangered fin whales. All of these whales will die for so-called 'scientific research' - but even the International Whaling Commission [IWC] has labelled the 'research' needless and urged the Japanese government to stop. In reality, the 'research' is commercial whaling in disguise - and the whale meat actually ends up in supermarket shelves in Japan, even though few people eat it anymore. Commercial whaling is banned under IWC rules. In contrast, the Great Whale Trail project is contributing to real scientific efforts without killing whales."

Though Japan's Fisheries Agency has not published an official response to this latest criticism by Greenpeace, there are many well-documented responses to similar complaints by the environmental group in the past. One such response appears in a Q&A published by the Institute of Cetacean Research: "Japan’s whale research programs are perfectly legal. Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) specifically provides for members of the IWC to issue permits for the killing of whales for research purposes… Contrary to claims by Greenpeace, Japan’s whale research programs are not a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Nothing in the UNCLOS diminishes or restricts in any way, rights provided by the ICRW…The treaty (ICRW) requires that the by-products of the research be processed. The fact that the whale meat ends up on the market is a requirement of the treaty to ensure that resources are not wasted. It is not a 'loophole' or 'illegal' or 'commercial whaling in disguise' as the anti-whaling rhetoric suggests. Income from the sale of by-products (meat) is used to partially offset the cost of the research."

Regardless of its motives, Greenpeace's new program does make information about humpback whales more readily available to everyday people. Each of the whales that have been tagged can be tracked on the interactive map located here (Greenpeace made sure to note that the information has been delayed so that no one can use the information to hunt the whales). Despite the environmental group's objections, Japan's annual whale hunt is expected to begin next month.