Japan’s scientific whaling has produced quite poor scientific results despite more than 20-year research period and sacrificing no less than 8,000 whales. Many scientists have been criticizing this point stating that there is no need to kill whales for science (eg, Clapham et al., 2003; Baker et al., 2005). However, these criticisms were not broadcasted in Japan. What is widely believed in Japan about whaling are like followings: “we (Japan) are scientific while they (anti-whaling side) are non-scientific; we are superior and they are inferior; whales must be killed or they will eat up all our fish; in short, we are right and they are wrong”. The government of Japan have partly committed to this non-scientific propaganda. It is very hard to find the opinions of Japanese cetacean biologists about this issue. What makes them stay silent?
This situation was generated by the political decision to benefit only a small group of Japan’s Fisheries Agency in the 1970s and 80s (Ishii & Okubo, 2007). Dr Kasuya, a Japanese cetacean biologist who has been openly criticizing Japan’s scientific whaling, wrote in a newspaper article that he was told to make research plan that takes a long time and needs massive killing of whales for the scientific whaling programme (The Mainichi Shimbun, 3 Oct 2005). He also pointed out that Japan’s scientific whaling led scientists, the whaling industry, and the government to corruption (PEW Whale Symposium Bulletin 137 No.4, 3 Feb 2008). Moreover, it has been pointed out that the Japanese cetacean biologists were allowed to have almost no freedom in their research (ibid).
Japan’s decision to withdraw from IWC is confusing and enigmatic since it has been argued that the aim of Japan is to prolong the research whaling in the open seas. Japan forfeits its right to perform scientific whaling while the benefits to Japan remains unclear. The effect of this decision has yet to be felt but the more Japan is isolated from the international regulation, the more the corruption of cetacean studies in Japan presumably accelerates.
As I discussed above, Japan’s cetacean studies have been severely damaged by the government’s political style. This is quite similar to what had happened in the Soviet Union. This issue can be a good example to study how scientific study is distorted and undermined by politics and to discuss democracy of scientific research. To my gut feeling, this is not restricted only in the whale study in Japan. Watch carefully at the studies of GMOs, nuclear energy, pollution, and so on.
Whaling as Science, Clapham et al., BioScience 53: 210 (2003)
Japan’s whaling plan under scrutiny, Gales et al., Nature 435: 883 (2005)
An alternative explanation of Japan’s whaling diplomacy in the post-moratorium era, Ishii & Okubo, Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy 10:55 (2007)