Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Against All Cetaceans

June 18th, 2009 · 5 Comments

japannorwaywhalingWe’ve always been puzzled by the fact that the two main holdouts against international whaling laws are Japan and Norway—nations from opposite ends of the globe, with no apparent shared culture or history. How did these two countries form such a strong alliance in favor of the continued slaughter of aquatic mammals?

The stock explanation is that it’s merely a matter of economics—the Japanese ostensibly enjoy consuming whale meat, and Norway has identified that demand as a big source of revenue. But that theory doesn’t really hold water when you look at the numbers: Though growing in recent years, Japanese whale-meat consumption remains relatively trifling. (Greenpeace figures here (PDF); Japanese government figures here.) Norway is a wealthy country, buoyed by its vast oil deposits, and would surely suffer little bottom-line harm were its whaling industry to disappear.

But as it turns out, there’s a 19th-century connection between the two nations’ whaling industry’s that’s seldom brought to light—and which may well explain why Japan and Norway find common ground on this issue. In 1897, a Japanese scientist named Oka Juro visited Norway to learn about a game-changing technological innovation: Svend Foyn‘s grenade harpoon. The device was more challenging to master than Juro anticipated, so when he returned to Japan the following year, he did so in the company of several Norwegian whaling experts. And those experts went on to become the “gunners” for the first-ever Japanese commercial whaling company. From that point forward, Norwegians were in high demand in Japan, and many were given special immigration status so that they could prowl the Pacific in search of whales. And so a strange bond was created between two very different nations, by virtue of their shared, somewhat ghoulish devotion to a certain kind of hunting.

Plenty more on the Japan-Norway whaling relationship here. And those hundreds of whales that Japan now kills annually in the name of scientific research? This is where the bulk of ’em end up. We get the feeling that the whales don’t feel like saying “You’re welcome” when this organization expresses its gratitude.

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