The Samaratin Whale

20 Jul 2004

Japan has asked for a new item to be put on the agenda at the 56th International Whaling Commission in Sorrento this week; “future sustainable whaling – full utilization of harvested whales”. The admitted aim of this maneuver – which leaves more than one Party perplexed – is to review the history of past whaling, especially in the Antarctic Ocean, by underlining the possible uses of all whale parts. To do this Japan refers to sustainable development and Article VIII 2 of the founding Convention of the IWC, which stipulates that “any whales taken under these special permits (scientific permits) shall so far as praticable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted”.

Japan knows better than anyone else that the whale meat market is in steep decline and no longer a viable economic venture seen the funds required to keep whaling vessels in service, and the limited appetite of most populations for whale meat. There is though a more pointed move to this revival; it entails a lucrative industry, which would target whale sub-products, such as ivory and sperm whale spermaceti. To date Japan has failed to provide the Commission with information on the sale or distribution of by-products, resulting from their scientific whaling (13 sperm whales killed in 2001 and 2003). For sure, such products are not thrown back into the ocean.

Spermaceti is found in the lower sub-division of the head of the sperm whale. A sperm whale can contain between 1 and 3 tons of spermaceti. Prior to the Moratorium on Commercial Whaling in 1986 spermaceti was sold for at least for 70 Euros a kilo. It was presented to the public as a miracle remedy for blows, cuts and bruises, internal injuries, coughs, abscess, intestinal infection, ulcers, syphilis, skin disorders… Spermaceti, also called the “the white of whale” became increasingly popular as it was compared with the siemens of the male of the species. Pharmacists are quick to hide this hoax from the public in order to promote the idea of the extreme rarity and power of the product.

An always resourceful Japan campaigns for the use of these whale products. Slogans continue to affirm that eating whale meat keeps us in fine fettle, physiologically and physically. Technically every part of the whale can be used, transformed or sold, as long as the marketing strategy refers to these mysterious powers coming from the depths of the ocean.

Ground whale bones have been used for fertilizer, the baleen plates for umbrellas, fans, corsets and riding whips, the ribs and bones for construction materials, the blood and bile for varnish and colouring and vitamins are extracted from the liver. Twenty years ago it was neither possible nor habitual to manufacture handbags in whale skin, but today the leatherwear industry, which already uses shark and salmon skin, would have little trouble in raising consumer interest in this sort of product.

While waiting for the lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling, a move is afoot to develop a marketing strategy. In Europe it is illegal to import or commercialize whale parts since 1981.

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