The change in public opinion about whaling has been dramatic.
Thirty years ago Australian vessels would hunt sperm whales with the government's blessing -- but just last week an Australian customs ship, in Antarctic waters to video Japanese whaling activities, played a key role in winning the freedom of two anti-whaling activists.
The hostage crisis began when the activists boarded a Japanese harpoon boat on Tuesday last week. Because Paul Watson, the leader of the conservation group Sea Shepherd, refused to cease his disruption of the whaling fleet, the Japanese refused to return the two men. But the stalemate was broken two days later when the Australian ship agreed to accept, and transfer, the activists.
In 1977, the Australian government, in the face of Greenpeace protests, appointed the retired judge Sydney Frost to head an inquiry into whaling. As a concerned Australian and a philosophy professor working on the ethics of our treatment of animals, I made a submission: Whaling should stop not because whales are endangered, but because they are social mammals with big brains, capable of enjoying life and feeling pain -- not only physical pain, but distress at the loss of group members.
Whales cannot be humanely killed: They are too large. Even with explosive harpoons it is difficult to hit the right spot. And because whalers are reluctant to use large amounts of explosive, which would destroy valuable oil or flesh, harpooned whales typically die slowly and painfully. If there were some life-or-death need that humans could meet only by killing whales, perhaps the ethical case could be countered. But everything we get from whales can be obtained without cruelty elsewhere. Thus, whaling is unethical.
Frost agreed that the methods were inhumane, remarking on "the real possibility that we are dealing with a creature which has a remarkably developed brain and a high degree of intelligence."
Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser's conservative government accepted his recommendation that whaling be stopped, and Australia soon became an anti-whaling nation.
While Japan has suspended its plan to kill humpback whales, its whaling fleet will still kill a thousand whales, mostly smaller minkes. Japan justifies this as "research" -- but the research seems to be aimed at building a scientific case for commercial whaling; so, if whaling is unethical, then the research is both unnecessary and unethical.
The Japanese say discussion of whaling should be carried out on the basis of evidence, without "emotion." They think that humpback numbers have increased sufficiently for the killing of 50 to pose no danger to the species.
On this narrow point, they might be right. But no amount of science can tell us whether or not to kill whales.
Indeed, the desire to kill whales is no less motivated by "emotion" than opposition to it. Eating whales is not necessary for health or nutrition; it is a tradition some Japanese are emotionally attached to.
They have one argument that is not easily dismissed. They claim that Western countries are just trying to impose their cultural beliefs on the Japanese. The best response to this argument is that the wrongness of causing needless suffering to sentient beings is not culturally specific. (It is, for instance, a precept of Japanese Buddhism.)
But Western nations are in a weak position to make this response, because they inflict so much unnecessary suffering on animals -- through culling, such as the Australian slaughter of kangaroos, to hunting and factory farms. The West will have little defense against the charge of cultural bias until it addresses needless animal suffering in its own back yard.
Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, is the author of Animal Liberation and, with Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat.
Over the past year, scores of gargantuan Chinese sand dredgers have deployed themselves in territorial waters off the Taiwanese-administered Matsu Islands, where their activities erode beaches and ruin fishing shoals. These Chinese ships are mercenary; a small 5,000 ton ship could sell a load of sand for the equivalent of US$55,000 to Fujian construction firms — or to the People’s Liberation Army for use in building its artificial reefs in the South China Sea. They also frustrate Taiwan’s government, which tries unsuccessfully to cooperate with Beijing on environmental stewardship of their contiguous waters. Each day, Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels can
On Monday last week, a formation of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes flew over the South China Sea near Malaysian Borneo and intruded into the airspace of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Although it was not the first incursion into Malaysian airspace by Chinese military aircraft, it was the first time such a large formation had been dispatched by China. It was yet another worrying indication that Beijing senses an opportunity to aggressively shape the post-COVID-19 world in its own image and has stepped up its plans to expand the frontiers of its empire well beyond the limits of its
With Taiwan’s COVID-19 “ring of steel” breached, the public is demanding vaccines, and politicians are calling for vaccine imports to be expedited. However, the manner in which the debate is being conducted leaves much to be desired. Some people believe that companies and nonprofit groups should be allowed to import vaccines. This is not as simple as it sounds. The mRNA vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech need to be stored at extremely low temperatures during their transportation from overseas manufacturing plants to the clinics that administer them. Regarding the BioNTech vaccine, its export from the EU requires complex paperwork and procedures.
With more controversies upsetting the nation’s fight against COVID-19, government agencies need to regain the public’s confidence. Being more transparent would be a good start. Over the past week, several politicians have apologized for failing to prevent more COVID-19 deaths, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). They must be frustrated to see their globally acclaimed victory from last year being denounced. However, their apologies must ring hollow to the grieving families and those who have no access to rapid testing kits or COVID-19 vaccines. To make matters worse, a Taipei-based clinic