By the conclusion of this year's International Whaling Commission plenary session, the Japanese delegation had made more progress toward gaining acceptance of its viewpoints than at any IWC meeting in recent memory. While several of their motions were voted down, Tokyo's representatives did convince the group to resume work on the Revised Management Scheme a set of legal and scientific guidelines for regulating commercial whaling after a 13-year hiatus. If preparations are completed as planned, the RMS could be implemented as soon as the 2001 IWC conference. "Strictly controlled, sustainable harvesting of abundant [whale] species" would follow, according to the head of Japan's delegation. However, the IWC's summary statement pointed out that "work on a number of issues, including specification of an inspection and observer system, must be completed before the commission will consider establishing catch-limits other than zero."
The Japanese representatives also consider a victory the failure of a proposal by Australia and New Zealand to ban the killing of whales for any purpose in much of the South Pacific. While most IWC delegates supported the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary initiative, proponents did not muster the necessary three-fourths majority needed for adoption. Japan, Norway and six Caribbean nations voted against the measure. That, combined with several abstentions, was just enough to sink the proposal.
The intense lobbying leading up to the balloting on the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary plan and the closeness of the vote generated charges that Japan had used its massive foreign aid program as a carrot to win the allegiance of the Caribbean members. The accusations centered around the decision by Dominica's prime minister to ignore the agreement of his own cabinet to abstain and to order the Dominican delegation to vote against the proposal. Japanese IWC commissioners rejected the charges as "absolute rubbish," pointing out that other IWC members that receive aid from Japan had voted for the sanctuary.
On the negative side of the ledger, the IWC voted 20 to 10 with three abstentions to approve a nonbinding resolution calling on Japan to halt its ongoing whale research program in the Antarctic. Similarly, a nonbinding censure of Japan's plan to expand its North Pacific research program to include the taking of 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales passed by a vote of 19 to 12 with two abstentions. Japan also failed in its attempt to bar such aggressive environmental groups as Greenpeace International from attending the IWC sessions. Nevertheless, it considered these setbacks minor compared with the progress made on the RMS guidelines and the blocking of the sanctuary measure.
While Tokyo continues to wage a determined international campaign to permit commercial whaling, a recent study revealed that whale meat may pose a health hazard. Koichi Haraguchi of Daiichi University in Fukuoka reported to the IWC's scientific committee that samples of 38 types of whale and dolphin meat sold in Japan in 1999 and this year showed high levels of dioxin and two other toxic chemicals. Dioxin contamination of the fat of minke whales, the species Japan considers most numerous and able to sustain commercial harvesting, was as high as 691 picograms per gram of whale fat and averaged 232 picograms. The study's author warned that a 110-pound person eating just 1.75 ounces of dolphin fat would exceed the government's ceiling for total daily intake of the carcinogen by 58 to 175 times. With public interest in dioxin and other environmental dangers increasing (see JEI Report No. 23A, June 16, 2000), the Japanese appetite for whale meat may disappear just as the product becomes more abundant.