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Japan bolts whaling commission, but tensions may ease | News

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The Japanese government has made good on years of threats by bolting the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but its decision may also offer a way out of tensions that looked inextricable.

Japan, which calls whaling part of its cultural heritage, said on Wednesday it would withdraw from the seven-decade-old commission which since 1986 has banned commercial killing of the ocean giants.

But while Japan vowed to forge ahead with full-fledged commercial hunts off its coast, it put a halt to its most provocative whaling – annual expeditions to the Antarctic which use an IWC loophole that permits whaling for scientific research.

Australia and New Zealand have been outraged by Japan’s incursions into waters they consider a whale sanctuary and activists harassed the whalers in often dangerous chases.

Patrick Ramage, a veteran watcher of IWC negotiations, called the announcement an “elegantly Japanese solution” that looks on the surface like defiance but will likely mean a much smaller hunt.

“What this provides is a face-saving way out of high seas whaling. And it is difficult to see that as anything other than good news for whales and the commission established to manage and conserve them,” Ramage, programme director for marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told AFP news agency.

Ramage said that the IWC, where Japan will now have observer status, can focus on increasingly serious threats to whales such as climate change, plastic pollution, ship-strikes and accidental net entanglement from the soaring fishing industry.

“It will be a net positive to allow the commission and its member countries to move beyond what has been a disproportionate and warping debate on whaling,” he said.

Norway and Iceland also hunt whales but remain within the IWC, instead formally registering objections to the ban.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which opposes any killing of whales and attempted to stop Japan’s fleet forcibly in the Antarctic, declared victory over Tokyo’s announcement but vowed not to accept any whaling by the three countries.






WATCH: Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

Mounting obstacles

For Japan, which generally prides itself on its contributions to international organisations, whaling has been a rare space in which it confronts its usual Western allies, with Japanese officials at IWC meetings railing against what they see as cultural imperialism.

While whale meat is rarely eaten in modern Japan, whaling has become a matter of principle for the powerful fishing business and port cities such as Shimonoseki, the home base of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But Japan’s whalers also faced serious obstacles outside the IWC. The Nisshin Maru, the world’s only remaining whaler factory ship and flagship in the “scientific” expeditions, is 31 years old and set for replacement.

Japan – adamant that it has always followed the letter of the law – also in 2014 lost a lawsuit filed by Australia at the International Court of Justice, which rejected Tokyo’s argument that its whaling was for science, although the narrow ruling allowed the Japanese government to reconstitute its programme.

And CITES, the global conference that governs wildlife trade to protect endangered species, in October reprimanded Japan for shipments of meat of sei whales, the main type it kills on the high seas.

Japan’s coastal whaling is expected to focus on minkes, the smallest of the great whales whose stocks are widely considered healthy.






WATCH: Which countries are trying to overturn whale hunting ban?

Latest shift for IWC?

The Cambridge, England-based IWC was established after World War II to manage whaling, seeking to ensure meat for a hungry Japan and, less successfully, to contain the Soviet Union’s prolific slaughter of whales.

After the IWC voted for the moratorium, Japan sought to pack the commission with allies – often small developing countries with no whaling tradition – but has continuously failed to reach the two-third threshold it needed.

As one of the earliest results of international environmental diplomacy, the IWC has advocates who say it must be preserved.

Peter Stoett, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who has written a book on the IWC, said Japan’s withdrawal marked a setback for the commission which will no longer have universal membership.

But he said Japan’s absence could reorient the IWC once again to focus on science and diplomacy to address climate change and other urgent threats to whales and other cetaceans.

“As dramatic as this is, the major threat to cetaceans today is not coming from harpoons,” Stoett said.

“The end of all whales could come, but that would be because the oceans are just too warm for the ecosystem support structure that they need,” he said.






EARTHRISE: Antarctic sanctuary – The Weddell Sea quest

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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