Tragedy of the commons and Culture

October 22, 2011

Political action


The Sea Shepherds

Image via invention info

After watching a TV show on the Animal Planet Channel called Whales Wars (to be honest, South Park got me onto it), i became interested in the practice of whale hunting. The Whales Wars is a reality show following a marine conversation orgainisation known as the Sea Shepherds. These guys are extremists dedicated to “saving” the marine environment. The Sea Shepherds have been known to undertake aggressive interventions such as ramming other vessels and throwing bottles of butyric acid, to stop (usually) the Japanese whalers from whaling. It is the extremity of their actions that led resulted in greater awareness and support for anti-whaling. However, on the other hand, they had exacerbated their relationship with Japanese government. The Japanese whaling organisation calling them “terrorists” and irresponsible as their actions put in danger the lives of both the whalers and the activists in the middle of the sea. For those who may not know anything about whaling, the actions of the Sea Shepherds may seen very extreme. So to give you guys some detail…

There has been a gradual yet ostensible drop in the number of whales which forced the International Whaling Commission to ban commercial whaling in 1986. With this moratorium in place, Japan has continued to hunt whales under the auspices of scientific research, a practice that is contentiously consented under the IWC rules. Due to this, there has been an various international debates regarding this topic as, even though Japan claims that the whale meat is going to scientific research,a lot of the whale meat actually ultimately ends up in the market for consumption. Hence, Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace and Sea shepherds have grown doubtful of Japan’s real intentions.To add, Japan has continuously claimed that hunting for whales and the consumption of whale meat is an integral part of their culture and history. And that the global community’s efforts to try and curtail this practice is like trying to change a historical cultural aspect of Japan.

Australia has also voiced its concerns, having already issued an affidavit against the International Court of Justice regarding ban on hunting Whales. The reason behind Australia’s outrage is because of this issue of the Tragedy of the Commons. As whales are more or less a “common” where anyone with a permit, or consent from the IWC, can hunt, the decline in their numbers, as aforementioned, has declined dramatically. Furthermore, the Japanese Hunting Vessels have been known to encroach into Australian waters to hunt for whales, a practice that Australia is categorically against.

To be honest, if there is a cultural practice that is accepted in a certain country which i do not understand (eg. wearing of the Burkha), i usually do not think much of it, for as long as the people in that country are happy with it, it is none of my problem. However, once a cultural practice starts to directly effect the whole world, does it give the global community the right to step in and try and curtail their cultural practices? Should more be done to stop whaling? Also, do you support the extremist tactics enforced by the Sea Shepherds?

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3 Comments on “Tragedy of the commons and Culture”

  1. namin91 Says:

    Interesting post. Have you ever seen The Cove? It’s a documentary about capturing and killing dolphins in Japan primarily, but it does touch on the issue of whaling as well seeing as the two issues are connected. I highly recommend it.

    I want to start by saying that the majority of Japan really doesn’t eat whale meat or support whaling practices. A study in 2006 showed that 95% of Japanese never or rarely eat meat and that 69% do NOT support whaling. It’s a very small portion of the population that partakes in this. Usually coastal communities that have been doing it for centuries and feel as though it’s their job, culturally, to pass down the practices to future generations.

    There are no health benefits to eating whale. In fact, there is evidence that it could be very unhealthy for you, along with dolphin meat, due to the high mercury levels. Killing whales is also bad for the ecosystem’s balance.

    Given all of that, I do think there is a global responsibility to put a stop to these practices. There is no legitimate reason for these practices to be allowed. They are purely cultural, and that is not enough. It’s pure and simple animal cruelty. And, as you said, this is a cultural practice that has started to directly affect the entire world and that means that a line has been crossed.

    I do think more can be done to try and stop whaling and the first step is exposure. Many people don’t even know that it is going on and those who do usually only think it is happening in Japan, which is not the case. I think the Sea Shepherds are very extreme, but they have been productive and helped to decline the killing of whales. More importantly, they have brought a good amount of exposure to the issue. If more organizations and groups got involved, they probably wouldn’t have to be so extreme.

  2. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I think this post is very interesting. This takes an issue that doesn’t seem to fit easily into politics and shows that political issues are central. I can see both sides of the argument. The case could be made that the whalers should have a right to continue because a cultural practice should be protected. On the other hand, the whalers should be stopped because they do not have a right to commit acts of animal cruelty solely in the name of tradition. I think ultimately the whalers are outside of their rights and should be stopped because their hunting is having negative impacts on a global scale.

    In discussion we discussed many cultural practices and whether or not they should be tolerated and on what basis. Some practices, such as ancient Chinese foot binding, the class agreed was unacceptable, while other practices were more controversial. In my opinion this issue is a little less cut and dry because this is an ancient tradition that is not hurting any humans and in some situations the meat is being used for the purpose of food (that is not to say that I personally believe that this behavior is acceptable-I think it is cruel and needs to be stopped).

    I think the thing that makes this practice intolerable on a political basis is that it is affecting the global community. These whale hunters are overstepping their boundaries and hunting in areas that they are not authorized to be hunting in. And their hunting is hurting the global ecosystem, which has unpleasant repercussions for all countries.

    I personally feel that the Sea Shepherds are doing something good for the global community. from an objective standpoint i would say that they should use less violent tactics, but that the whaling should be stopped, despite the fact that it is a cultural practice, because it is hurting those outside off Japan (and many within Japan as well).

  3. dkap7 Says:

    The tragedy of the commons takes form in many contexts. Dealing with whales and their demise by the Japanese whalers, it is important to remember that 200 miles outside each coastline of mostly every countries is international waters. This means that there is very little jurisdiction in the places where these Japanese whalers round up hopeless whales. This article shows how complex the politics are in this conflict. With the jurisdiction in the hands of an organization that is represented from many countries, international Whaling Commission it is very tough to regulate the rules that the International Whaling Commission has put in place.

    In spite of the reasons that the Japanese request permission to whale, they are out of place if some of this whale meat is distributed through the market. I can understand if they whale very few whales and use them strictly for scientific reasons, but if this meat ends up in the market, there are clearly other intentions on why whaling is important to the Japanese culture, including the economic benefits of its meat. If whales population numbers are actually declining, this is an extremely selfish act by the Japanese government. Not only does whale meat have an extremely high toxicity of mercury, but it also a very tough and dull meat to eat.

    The issue regarding the politics of this issue are very complex as stated earlier. The open sea makes up about 70% of the world’s surface, and because of this there is just very little an organization like this one can do to stop Japan from whaling as much as they do. The way I see it, if Japanese whalers feel it is ok to kill whales in this tragedy of the commons, then I feel that it is alright for these activists to fight back on open water. These activists serve as open water “police”. In a comment earlier posted, the user suggests that most of the Japanese are against this whale hunting. If this is the case, and most of the world is also agains whaling, then it is appropriate to act out against this environmental problem.

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