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December 2000 Planet Main
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The Planet

by Johanna Congleton

Japan Hunts Endangered Whales

In 1986, a commercial-whaling moratorium dulled harpoons worldwide. To this day, only limited hunts by a few aboriginal groups are still allowed. 

The majority of the 39 nations that form the International Whaling Commission, an agency that regulates whaling and conservation, agree the only excuse for killing the world's largest mammals is scientific study. The IWC permits scientists to study migration, feeding and population sizes for conservation purposes. 

However, Japan exploits this loophole to kill whales from the protected Southern Ocean Sanctuary near Antarctica under the guise of science. The whales caught for "research" eventually end up on plates in gourmet restaurants or packaged for exotic shops - a market worth $50 million per year.

Japan and other pro-whaling nations such as Norway have steadily increased pressure on the IWC to lift the moratorium, and now whales may face a renewed threat - the resurrection of legal commercial whaling within the next few years.

This year, Japan stepped up its annual catch of 600 to 700 minke whales to include 50 Bryde's whales and 10 endangered sperm whales. All three species are protected under U.S. law and the international moratorium on commercial whaling, but the Japanese Whaling Association argues these whales must be killed for research. The JWA claims such "research" indicates the world's fish stocks are dropping because recovering whale populations eat too much - an argument most conservationists and marine scientists believe lacks credibility. Ironically, Japan is one of the world's largest consumers of fish and the largest consumer of whale meat.

For years, the IWC has called on Japan to end whale hunts. But since it's up to the IWC's member nations to enforce the standards, Japan has chosen to ignore them. This year, the commission passed a resolution urging Japan not to include Bryde's and sperm whales in their activities.

"You don't have to open up the stomachs of 700 whales each year to figure out how much they eat," said Judy Olmer, chair of the Club's Marine Mammal Working Group.

Despite international protests from government officials and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Japan has insisted on increasing its annual whale catch. In September, President Clinton responded by revoking Japan's fishing rights in U.S. waters, and the Secretary of Commerce and several U.S. government agencies will soon recommend whether or not further sanctions are appropriate. Carl Pope, the Club's executive director, applauded President Clinton for "sending a message to the Japanese government that the American public values species protection over species consumption."

But U.S. farmers and industry oppose such punishment. Japan buys more than 3 million tons of wheat from America each year - farmers believe this market could be jeopardized by sanctions. Japanese spokesmen have expressed confidence that trade sanctions are an empty threat.

"That means we need to increase pressure on Japan with sanctions and public action," said Olmer. "They need to know that more than a few whale-lovers are watching." 

To Take Action: Write the Japanese Embassy and voice opposition to Japan's commercial whaling operations. Write: The Honorable Shunji Yanai, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan, 2520 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20008. Also contact President Clinton to voice your support for sanctions against Japan if it continues its whaling program. Write President Bill Clinton, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20500.

For More Information: Contact Judy Olmer at

Proposed Chugach Forest Plan Falls Short

At 5.5 million acres, Alaska's Chugach is the nation's second largest national forest. It comprises the fjords, bays, inlets and forested islands of Prince William Sound, which gained national attention with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Also within its borders are the Kenai Peninsula, heavily used for recreation, and the Copper River Delta, a world-class migratory bird area.

And not one acre of it is designated wilderness. 

The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft forest plan for the Chugach, with comments due by Dec. 14. Out of a list of six alternatives, the agency's "preferred" plan recommends more wilderness for glaciers and ice fields than for lowlands; for example, it leaves the valuable wetland habitat of the Copper River Delta with inadequate protection. Most river valleys would be slated for commercial uses and motorized access.

According to Jack Hession, the Club's Alaska representative, Alternative F comes closest to protecting the wild values of the forest. It recommends wilderness for the Kenai Peninsula's Resurrection Creek and Resurrection River watersheds, which abut the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Alternative F also proposes the Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area, the scenic forest east of the Seward Highway and the Copper River Delta and lower Copper River for wilderness designation.

"But Alternative F has some shortcomings," said Hession. "For starters, only seven out of 23 eligible rivers are recommended for addition to the Wild and Scenic River System - and two of them are glaciers."

To Take Action: Tell the Forest Service you support a modified Alternative F. By Dec. 14, clip and mail the One-Minute Activist coupon on page 8. Or better yet, write your own letter using the points above and in the coupon on page 8. Send to: Forest Plan Revision, Chugach National Forest, 3301 C Street, Suite 300, Anchorage, AK 99520; fax (907) 271-3992;

For More Information: Contact Vicky Hoover, Alaska Task Force, (415) 977-5527;

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