Japanese stand firm on whaling as `a matter of national pride'. They say their aim is research and that Western criticism is `Japan-bashing'

Japan's controversial whale-research trip to the Antarctic is over, and the fleet is heading home. But the country's pro-whaling forces do not intend to stop making waves. The Antarctic expedition that left Japan in December is scheduled to return to Tokyo port late this month, having caught nearly 300 minke whales.

Western conservationists and scientists say the trip's purpose was commercial. But Japanese whaling proponents say the trip was for research. They also say criticism of the expedition is yet another form of Western anti-Japanese sentiment.

``It's becoming a matter of national pride,'' said Junichiro Okamoto, deputy director of the Japanese Fishery Agency's Deep Sea Fishery Division.

He and other whaling proponents here point to Article 8 of the still-in-effect 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The article says International Whaling Commission (IWC) members are authorized to ``kill, take, and treat whales'' for scientific-research purposes, and it is up to each member-government to decide on the numbers killed.

``We have been upholding the [convention] consistently all along, despite complaints we've had with it, yet other countries still put pressure on us,'' Mr. Okamoto said. ``The more the whaling problem becomes a racial or moral issue, the more the Japanese will be unwilling to accept it.''

Kiyoo Tanahashi, owner of one of Tokyo's six popular restaurants that serve only whalemeat, echoed this sentiment. ``Basically, I think this is a kind of prejudice against Japan,'' he said. Others call this criticism a type of ``Japan-bashing.''

One reason so many whaling proponents here have come to this conclusion is because of the wide gulf between Western and Japanese views on whales. Whales are a renewable resource, say Japanese whaling advocates, including the government. Because whalemeat is ``part of the national diet'' - they want to utilize that resource.

Kunio Arai, chief of the Japan Whaling Association, said the IWC called a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 not because, as he put it, whales are beautiful or intelligent, but because more research was needed to determine if the numbers were high enough to continue commercial whaling.

``There was a lack of good information and some bias in research done before the moratorium decision. The bias was because research was done during commercial whaling trips and because only big whales were caught and researched. So we have to get out of that uncertainty and gather more comprehensive data to know more about the populations,'' Mr. Arai said. The goal, he claimed, is informed population management.

But Hideo Obara, a mammology professor at Kagawa Nutrition College who is against whaling, says that research done by killing does not lead to population management. Rather, he says, the research done by Japanese scientists in the Antarctic Ocean destabilizes the natural population. ``It breaks up the groups they travel in and changes their living conditions. The research they're doing is not a population study; it's an industry study for utilization.''

Although he does not go along with Western claims that the Antarctic expedition was a commercial-whaling trip in research disguise, Dr. Obara says, ``No Japanese thinks that scientific research is the only purpose of this expedition. The people know that it's for keeping the whaling industry alive.'' The Japanese recently announced that they would do some fund raising for Japan's whaling research. The government says it can supply only $2.8 million of the $13.6 million budget for research planned for fiscal year 1988. The sale of whalemeat caught during the expedition will bring in $4 million - not enough to defray the research costs. Another $6.8 million will be raised from corporations and private individuals.

But the frequently asked question remains: Why do Japanese scientists say they have to kill the whales in order to do their research? They insist that truly reliable data can be obtained only through lethal research.

``We would prefer not to kill the whales if benign research were sufficient,'' said Syoiti Tanaka, a Tokyo professor and author of the research plan Japan submitted last year to the IWC Scientific Committee. ``Twenty years from now, benign research may be quite effective, but genetic fingerprinting and other concepts are only ideas so far - not [research] techniques. ...''

But Roger Payne, a senior scientist with the World Wildlife Fund and member of the IWC Scientific Committee, disagrees: ``Benign research is faster, more effective, and more efficient than the old methods of whaling research.'' Dr. Payne compared the Japanese insistence on lethal research to someone insisting on using vacuum tubes to build radios when everyone else in the world was using transistors.

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