Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Japanese whaling supremo Joji Morishita quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

  56k  


Whaling and anti-whaling nations are gearing up for July's crucial meeting of the International Whaling Commission, to be held in London.

Fifteen years ago the world agreed to suspend the commercial killing of whales. That moratorium is still in force.

But Norway and Japan have always defied the ban. They have been pushing for years for some forms of commercial whaling to be allowed. This IWC meeting may produce a timetable for that to happen.

Anti-whaling groups fiercely oppose this, arguing that once any sort of whaling is allowed, it will be impossible to control.

Should we open the door to controlled commercial whaling? Can it work in practice? To what extent is it already happening?

Joji Morishita of Japan's Fisheries Agency answered your questions about his country's stance on whaling.


Highlights of interview:


Newshost:

How many whales does Japan kill every year?


Joji Morishita:

We only hunt for scientific activity for Minke whales which is recognised as abundant by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. The number is 400 plus or minus 10% in the Antarctic Ocean 100 in the North West Antarctic Ocean.


Newshost:

But apart from those Minke whales which you said abundant, you also, this year, hunted Sperm and Bryde's whales which are not so abundant?


Joji Morishita:

We started taking Bryde's and Sperm whales - yes and they are actually abundant. The sperm whale is one of the most abundant species now. Even the United States Government bodies have admitted that the Sperm whales are one of the most abundant. Bryde's whales are also abundant too. The number we are taking is only 10 - 15 - it very small portion of the total number of the species around the world.


Newshost:

All these three species - the Minke whales, the Sperm Whales and the Bryde's whales - as you say, you catch for scientific research which under the rules of the whaling commission you are entitled to do. You are not breaking any rules in do so. Let me turn to the first two questions we have had and I will take them together. One is from David Jenkins of London in the UK, who asks: I would like to know what the scientific reasons are for killing whales. Can these scientific inquiries not be met by observation, tagging and so on?

There is another question from Richard in the UK who asks: what scientific knowledge do you learn from this activity? What can be learnt from killing the 655th Minke that you didn't learn from killing the first Minke?


Joji Morishita:

The reason we try to collect scientific information is that the moratorium required the collection of scientific data. The moratorium was introduced because there is scientific uncertainty about the science of whales. That is why we started our research. The management of whales has several different aspects. One of them is actually the age of whales. The only way to ascertain the age of whales is to take out the earplug inside the head of a whale and you cannot take this out while this it is alive.

Another important aspect is that we like to know what they are eating, how much and when. We have to look at the inside of their stomachs for example. Other information like their internal organ situation - all those things cannot be obtained by just observing.

I know there are the techniques like autopsy which takes the small amount of the fin of a whale while it is alive - we are doing that too. Actually Japan is doing a lot of mainly observation study too. But we are only collecting information which cannot be collected by solely observation.


Newshost:

So you would say there are good scientific reasons for you continuing to kill whales?


Joji Morishita:

That is right.


Newshost:

You know there is the argument by your opponents who say that you say it is scientific whaling but in fact you are catching the whales to supply the market because people in Japan like eating whale meat.


Joji Morishita:

The supply market is actually another requirement under international law or conventions which established the International Whaling Commission. The convention clearly says you have to process and sell the meat. This is not surprising - it is just only saying do not waste value after you collect samples. We are following this obligation again in the sense that the purpose is not providing the meat, the purpose is trying to obtain data - the meat is just a by-product.


Newshost:

The meat is a by-product to the science?


Joji Morishita:

That is right.


Newshost:

A question now from Ivor, Manchester, UK, who asks, if commercial whaling was accepted again by the commission, who would administer which species could be hunted and how the large the quotas could be?


Joji Morishita:

The quotas and species and other management will be dictated by the International Whaling Commission. The IWC has a system already agreed by the IWC to give us a safe quota - catch level and they have also almost established management enforcement systems. It is not Japan who decides the type of catch or it is not Japan who decides which species should be taken. We are dictated by the decision of the IWC and we are committed to follow that rule.


Newshost:

You will abide by what the commission says?


Joji Morishita:

Yes that is right.


Newshost:

And you are not going to leave the commission?


Joji Morishita:

No.


Newshost:

A question from Jim Rushton, in Worcester, UK who asks, almost the entire world supports a ban on whaling, why do you believe that you have the right to hunt and kill whales in international waters when the international community is obviously against whaling?


Joji Morishita:

This is another myth. So called world opinion is actually something reported by the BBC and CNN.


Newshost:

Well not only the BBC and CNN - by the media actually.


Joji Morishita:

Yes that is right. But for example, our research is supported by more than ten countries last year at the International Whaling Commission. These included China, Russia, Austria, South Korea, Norway who are fishing countries. If you go outside from the IWC - world opinion is not like that which you are led to believe. There is an organisation - the International Convention over Trade of Endangered Species of Plants and Animals. In this committee, Japan and Norway has proposed a so-called down-listing of Minke whales.


Newshost:

You want them to be described as not endangered?


Joji Morishita:

Not endangered and allowed some commercial trading. This proposal - more than half the countries voted for this proposal. This organisation happens to have 150 members - which is much large than IWC. More than half the countries voted for this proposal - but we need two-thirds to pass this resolution. You cannot say that we are isolated because we have more than half of the votes.


Newshost:

You would say that quite a lot of world opinion supports you?


Joji Morishita:

Yes.


Newshost:

This takes us into the area of what is called sustainable use. The idea that if you have a species which is in sufficient numbers - whether it is Minke whales, whether it is elephants or whatever - it is better to use it and then people will value it. Is that part of Japan's reasoning in hunting whales?


Joji Morishita:

The sustainable use principle is a very important one for us to support. People might say why a country like Japan is so eager about the whaling issue because it is only a small part of the Japanese economy. But we see this as part of a larger issue of sustainable utilisation. In the IWC sometimes the science is ignored and international law is ignored. We are doing things legally.


Newshost:

Let me take you back to the numbers of whales - you talk about Minkes - you catch 400 in the Antarctic and 100 in the North Pacific. Now you say they are abundant but we have a question here from Mark Cummings in Stockholm, Sweden who asks: How can we be sure that the population figures for the species from which the ban on commercial whaling would be lifted are correct given that the figures from the Soviet Union were under reported for most of the last century? How can you be sure that your figures on the Minkes are correct? How can you be sure they are abundant?


Joji Morishita:

The number was estimated by a so-called sighting survey - observation and observation has been going on in Antarctic Ocean for the last 20 years or more. We know the numbers - the number were agreed by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.

But in order to manage that resource - the number is not enough we have to know the age. If we have 100 people in the United Kingdom and if they are all over the age of 70 what will happen to them10 years from now? That population will probably shrink. But if it were 100 people much younger people e.g. in their teenage years or in their 20s - what happens to them10 years time - probably that population will increase? So just numbers is not enough for managing that resource - we like to know the age. So that is one of the reasons why we have to do this sampling.


Newshost:

One argument that many people use against whaling is that they cannot agree to it because you cannot kill a whale humanely - it is just impossible to kill a huge animal like that with a certain first shot at sea - you just can't do it. How would you answer people like that?


Joji Morishita:

The improvement in killing methods is also going on. In the case of Norwegian whaling, 70% of all whales are killed instantaneously. Around Japanese waters the number is a little bit lower. We also use a high calibre rifle if the first shot was not effective. Time to death is one of the guidelines to tell whether they are killed humanely or not - the time to death is much less than for example the hunting of deer or any kind of wildlife hunting in this country or the United States.


Newshost:

But that is still an awful lots of whales - 30% who don't die instantly and that take some minutes to die or longer with this harpoon having exploded inside their bodies doesn't it?


Joji Morishita:

We are still continuing to improve this technology and we will continue to do that. As you know human beings are killing a large number of animals every day and we have to continue this kind of effort not for just for whales but for other species as well as long as we are utilising those animals.


Newshost:

A question now from Robin J, in Saudi Arabia asks: under what circumstances, if any, would Japan stop whaling?


Joji Morishita:

When all species of whales are endangered or depleted we will follow the ruling of the IWC and we have to stop whaling. But now the science supports us. There are abundant species of whales like the Minke and we have a system to allow sustainable use of Minke whales. The international law regulations and science allows whaling and if that is the case we have no reason to stop whaling.


Newshost:

What you have just said Mr Morishita, is that you will continue to catch Minke whales until they are endangered or depleted?


Joji Morishita:

No that is not the case. The IWC has a system to allow safe quota of the Minkes or whatever species. This is like if you have a bank account and if you have a rule that you will not use the interest of the bank account if you have less than 5,000 - then your bank account will remain. If you are using your money only when you have for example 1 million in your bank account, that bank account will be very safe.

The IWC system is like that - if the number of Minke whales is lower than a certain number - which is a very safe number - then all the catch is prohibited and only when that number is above that number the sustainable catch will be allowed.


Newshost:

So you are saying that you would stop catching Minkes long before they became endangered?


Joji Morishita:

Yes that's right.


Newshost:

Franz P in Bangor in Wales asks: what is the point of hunting an endangered species?


Joji Morishita:

We have no intention of hunting endangered species of whales.


Newshost:

The Blue whales for instance?


Joji Morishita:

No, we have not intention of that. We like to use only abundant species in a sustainable manner following the rules established by the International Whaling Commission.


Newshost:

But there is a danger isn't there because, as I understand it, the only way of telling whether a piece of whale meat comes from an abundant Minke whale or a very rare Blue whale or any other species is to subject it to DNA analysis and not every court in the world by any means can do that. So if you take even abundant specifies isn't there a danger that you could be opening the way to whalers to catch very rare species?


Joji Morishita:

You control the hunting activities on the sea not in the market. In the whaling depots once commercial whaling is open, there will be international observers countries and this person or persons will be observing the whaling activities over 24 hours - so there will be no catch of a prohibited species. Now we have a satellite system which can track down the movements of our vessels. All that technology and commitment of accepting international observers and commitment about accepting other management measures and as I pointed out with DNA control, I don't think there will be a large scale illegal take possible in the future of sustainable whaling.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

06 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban stays - for now
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to more Forum stories