shopping mall whale in Osaka
The Japanese have been hunting whales for more than 1,000 years. There are dozens of religious ceremonies, shrines and festivals that incorporate whales in some way. Whalebone sticks, for example, are used to strike bells at Gion Matsuri festival in Kyoto. One bell ringer said that plastic replacement don't produce as nice a sound as the whalebone varieties.

The whaling industry has lot a political clout in Japan and is strongly supported by nationalists and right wing extremists, who call the denial of the Japanese right to eat and hunt whales “cultural imperialism.” Some whaling towns still have towers dedicated to souls of whales and lookout towers used to spot them offshore.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest sperm whale ever (68 feet) was caught off the Kuril Islands in 1950 in waters claimed by Japan. A whale that was found stranded in shallow waters off Tsunoshima island in Hohokkucho was identified as a new species: the Tsunoshima whale. The whale found was 11 meters long and had a jaw and DNA that were unique.

In March 2007, a fisherman was killed when the boat he was in was struck by an injured whale during an attempt to rescue the animal. The 15-meter-long whale had been spotted in three-meter-deep water. During an attempt to save the whale by moving it to deeper water with a rope the whale thrashed violently and struck the boat, which had three people on aboard. The three were thrown into the sea. While two were rescued immediately, the body of the victim--58-year-old Noriyuki Yamamoto--could not be found. His body was discovered about two hours later. The whale was able to swim from the shallow water on its own.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Whales Whales on the American Cetacean Society Website acsonline.org/factpack ; Whale Pictures whales.org.au/gallery ; Whale Watching in Japan Whale Watching on the Inland Sea whale route.com ; Ogasawara whale watching Ogasawara whale watching ; whale watching in Okinawa Kerama Islands whale watching

Whaling Life Magazine Whaling Photos life.com/image ; International Whaling Commission iwcoffice.org ; Japanese Whaling Institute of Cetacean Research icrwhale.org ; Whaling Library luna.pos.to/whale ; Japan Whaling Association whaling.jp/english ; Japan Fisheries Agency Whaling Page jfa.maff.go.jp ; Anti-Whaling Activists: Sea Shepherd seashepherd.org ; Greenpeace Japan greenpeace.or.jp ;

Dolphins Dolphin Watching at Dolphin Club Miyakejima Dolphin Club Miyakejima;Save Japan Dolphins savejapandolphins.org ; Wikipedia article on Dolphin Hunting Wikipedia ; The Cove Movie thecovemovie.com ; Wikipedia article on Taiji Wikipedia

Links in this Website: ANIMALS AND ENDANGERED ANIMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ALIEN ANIMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GIANT SQUIDS, SHARKS , THE SEA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WHALES, WHALING AND DOLPHIN HUNTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SEAFOOD IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SUSHI Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FUGU (BLOWFISH) IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FISHING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BLUEFIN TUNA FISHING AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TSUKIJI FISH MARKET IN TOKYO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TRADITIONAL FISHING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PEARLS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Sites on Wild Animals: Animal Info animalinfo.org/country/japan ;Japan Animals Blog /japan-animals.blogspot.com ; Hub Pages on Wild Animals in Japan hubpages.com/hub/japanfacts ; ARKive (do a Search for Japan or the Animal Species You Want) arkive.org Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive

Love of Whale Meat in Japan

Many Japanese, especially older and middle-ages onesenjoy eating whale meat. It is sauteed, roasted and eaten raw. Japanese say it tastes more like beef than fish. Whale bacon sells for as much as $180 a pound at gourmet food shops and dishes made with whale go for as much as $100 a plate at restaurants.

Whale meat is dark red and doesn't look at like fish meat. Japanese consider blue, fin and sei whales to be the most delicious. Sperm whales aren't regarded as very tasty. Humpback meat isn't considered that good but the organs are palatable. Japanese generally like minke whales less than other species because they are small and don't contain much fat, which is what the Japanese love. Meat from minke whales is the easiest to get today. Before the 1987 ban on whaling the Japanese didn't even hunt them.

Whale meat in Japan has traditionally made into stews with soy sauce and spinach. These stews are now made with beef or pork. In the whaling town of Wadamachi in Chiba you can get whale steaks, whale jerky, carved whale-tooth jewelry and even a one-meter-long decorated whale penis. Some towns sell whale nose cartilage pickled in sake in cans with a spouting whale. Those who have tried it said the cartilage has a crispy texture and a pungent taste.

Taruichi, a Tokyo restaurant that specializes in whale meat, offers 36 choices: fried whale, whale bacon, whale heart, whale testicles, whale kidney and even ice cream made with whale fat. Boiled tongue is said to be particularly delicious. At whale restaurants in Shimonoseki you can get fried whale tail, grilled whale tongue wafers, boiled blubber and whale sashimi. In some places you can get sliced whale skin and whale burgers made with fried minke whale.

Whale meat distributors claim that whale meat is high in protein and low in calories and have alleviated the problem of toughness associated with whale meat through improved freezing techniques. The tail meat sells for as much $70 a pound and is prized for whale sashimi. which is eaten with grated garlic or ginger to mask the odor. The health benefits of whale meat is a matter of some debate. On study found that Japanese in Wakayama Prefecture that eat pilot whale have high levels of mercury in their hair.

Whale Meat and the Japanese Diet

whaling shrine
The amount of whale meat consumed rose from 2,450 tons in 2000, most of it from minke and Baird's beaked whales, to 5,560 tons in 2005. In a survey in 2002, 63 percent of the people over 60 and 47 percent of those between 20 and 24 said they ate whale meat, but of these 40 percent said they only eat it “sometimes.”

The Japanese were encouraged to eat whale meat after World War II to stave off famine and schoolchildren ate whale meat for lunch into the 1960s. One elderly man who ate a lot of whale when he was growing up told the New York Times, "After the war, there was nothing to eat in Japan, and we would have starved if it were not for the whale bacon and steaks that the government provided us in school lunches."

The market price of whale meat in 2009 was ¥2,060 a kilogram. The amount of whale meat sold at Tsukiji Market was about 220,000 kilograms in 2010 compared to about 1.8 million kilograms in 1980, the year before commercial whaling was banned. Revenues from whale meat have fallen from ¥6.4 billion in 2008 to ¥.5.4 billion in 2009 to ¥4.5 billion in 2010.

Much of the whale meat is not even consumed. Rather thousands of tons of it pile up in freezers. According to the Iruka and Kujira (Dolphin and Whale ) Action Network whale meat stockpiles reached a record high of 6,000 tons in September 2010. Stocks tend be at the highest in the summer after the whaling season off the northern coast of Japan is over.

In the 2000s, whale meat was reintroduced to school menus by the ICR, which sold it for a third of the market price. As of 2010, according to government survey, 5,355 primary and middle schools nationwide (18 percent of Japan’s primary and middle schools) served whale meat in school lunches, with schools in Wakayama and Nagasaki Prefecture serving it as a way to teach children about traditional foods. Greenpeace viewed the effort as an attempt to generate demand for whale meat.

In the 1950s and 60 the consumption of whale was around 2,000 grams per person, compared to around 50 today. An elderly dentist told the New York Times, "As a child we ate miso soup with whale meat every New's Year Day. It was a centuries-old tradition in my village. You can’t imagine how precious whale meat is to me.”

Whales and Culinary Imperialism

Polls indicate that 56 percent of Japanese approve of eating whale, with support especially strong among men and people over 40. “Much of this support isn’t because people are pro-whaling or are willing to eat whale meat,” Atsushi Ischii, specialist in environmental policy at Tohuku University told the Los Angeles Times. “People are against the anti-whalers. They don’t like being told what to by outside groups.”

whale at Hanada Airport in Tokyo

Many Japanese consider American, European and Australian criticism of eating whale to be "culinary imperialism." One whale meat lover told Time, "Japanese think it is strange that Americans hunt deer. But I don't tell Americans not to kill deer. Why should they ask us not to eat whale?" Other Japanese say that raising cattle in small enclosures with hormones and killing them with electric prods is much crueler than whaling. Another man told the New York Times, "We may eat whale but we also revere it. How can a total stranger tell us not to hunt whales without knowing how much this meat means to us?"

Even people who don’t like whale support the right of the Japanese to hunt whale, from the point of view that others don’t have the right to tell the Japanese what to do. One Japanese lawmaker told the BBC: “In Japan we have pet dogs. But we don’t tell the Koreans to stop eating dogs. Nor should people tell us to stop eating whale.”

Joji Morishita of the powerful government Fisheries Agency told the Los Angeles Times, “What would the Americans say if India suddenly said they should stop eating beef because the cow is special to their culture? That’s what is happening to us. “

Finback Whale Meat from Iceland and the Closing of an L.A. Restaurant

In 2010, according to to Kyodo news, an Icelandic whaling firm shipped 500 to 600 tons of finback whale meat to Japan, marking the resumption of full-fledged whale meat exports to Japan. The whaling firm Hvalur---Iceland’s largest---caught 148 finbacks with the Japan market in mind. Japan The meat from finbacks is said to be especially tasty.

In 2010 year, 148 fin whales were killed off Iceland and 125 in 2009. In that time only two fin whales were caught by the Japanese, 4 percent of a 50-catch goal, according to the agency.

Kyodo reports that around 4,000 tons of whale meat, mainly from minke whales, is sold in Japan every year but supply is more than demand. The Icelandic fin whale meat is believed to impact the price of whale meat. CEO of Hvalur Kristján Loftsson is quoted as saying that the goal is not to push minke whale meat out of the Japanese market. He believes the fin whale meat from Iceland can have a positive effect on the market.

DNA analysis of samples taken from minke, sei and fin whales served in restaurants in South Korea and the United States seems to indicate the whales were either purchased by Japan or killed by Japanese research whaling operations, In March 2010, a sushi chef at a restaurant in Los Angeles call the Hump was charged with illegally selling an endangered species product after people associated with the film The Cove help bust the restaurant for offering diners meat from a sei whale---an endangered species. Activists claim the meat came from Japan’s scientific whaling program. The restaurant was closed.

Japanese Whale Hunting

whaling ship
Most of the research whaling is done in the Antarctic. Some is done in the North Pacific. Whaling is also carried on a small scale off of Japan’s coast. In the autumn it is done off Kushiro, Hokkaido. In the spring between late April and June it has been done off the coast of northeast Honshu. Coastal whaling is usually carried out within 90 kilometers of the shore. The maximum quota is 60 minke whales.

The Japanese whaling fleet operating in the Antarctic consists of the 8,044-ton Nisshin Maru mother ship and three or four other boats that weigh around 700 tons each. A single minke whale can produce around $100,000 in meat.Whalers who work on these ships make about $75,000 a year, three times the average for regular fishermen.

There are four main whaling ports: Abashiri in Hokkaido, Ayukawa in Miyagi Prefecture, Wadamachi in Chiba Prefecture and Taijicho in Wakayama Prefecture. Boats operating of the whaling station on Boso Peninsula of Wadamachi, Chiba prefecture have permission from the International Whaling Commission to catch 26 Baird's beaked whales. The 10-meter whales are butchered in about three hours with large knives at a port station. The slabs of meat are weighed and sold to processing companies.

Wadamachi has a long history of consuming Baird's beaked whales. Local people who show up with buckets and other containers to collect blubber, which they take home and cut into pieces and dry under the eaves of their houses. The Japanese also legally hunt pilots whales in waters near Japan.

Whaling can be dangerous work. In February 2007, a Japanese whaling ship caught fire in seas off of Antarctica, killing one crew member. Environmentalist raised concerns about an oil spill from the ship threatening a large penguin colony on an island 175 kilometers from where the ship had trouble. In January 2009, a 30-year-old whaling ship crew man disappear and is thought to have fallen overboard and died in the frigid Antarctic water.

Japanese Whale Hunting in the Old Days

In the old days, whalers set off for six-months at a time, roaming the Antarctic in search of blue and sperm whales. It was not uncommon for them to kill 20 whales in a single day. The whalers endured their share of tragedy. A storm in 1879, capsized 30 boats, killing 111 men in a single town.

Describing a fin back whale hunt in his 1916 book Whale Hunting With Gun and Camera,, Roy Chapman Andrews wrote, “Again and again Sorenson lances him, each time remaining a little longer and jabbing the lance deeper into his body. At last the gallant animal threw his fin into the air, rolled on his side, and sank.”

Describing the scene at a Japanese whaling station, Andrews wrote in a 1911 edition of National Geographic, “The entire posterior part of the whale was then drawn upward and lowered on the wharf to be stripped of blubber and flesh...Section by section the carcass was cut apart and drawn upward to fall into the hands of men on the wharf and be sliced into great blocks two or three feet square.”

Coastal Whaling

Japanese whalers operating near Japan use boats armed with harpoons to go after single whales in the May-to-October whaling season. In October teams of 15 boats use nets to trap whales and drag them into a bay, where they are killed off with harpoons. This method is extremely bloody. It is usually done at night on a date that is kept secret.

Whaling is carried on a small scale off of Japan’s coast. In the autumn it is done off Kushiro, Hokkaido. In the spring between late April and June it has been done off the coast of northeast Honshu. Coastal whaling is usually carried out within 90 kilometers of the shore. The maximum quota is 60 minke whales.

Japan’s coastal whaling is based in four small ports where whale has long been a traditional food item, unlike much of the rest of Japan, where it was added to the menu only after World War II. Ayukawahama in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture is Japan’s main whaling port. In 2009 and 2010, a fleet of five vessels caught 60 minke whales in Japanese waters off the northeastern coast of Japan within an 80-kilometer radius of Ayukawahama. So central is whaling to the local identity that many here see the fate of the town and the industry as inextricably linked. “There is no Ayukawahama without whaling,” a 27-year-old fisherman and an occasional crewman on the whaling boats, told the New York Times. Another whaling town is Taiji, made infamous by the movie “The Cove.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 15, 2010]

Coastal Whaling and Ayukawahama, Japan’s Main Whaling Port

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Ayukawahama is a small harbor town of some 4,600 mostly graying residents on Japan’s northern coast, where whaling boats sit docked with harpoon guns proudly displayed, and shops sell carvings made from the ivorylike teeth of sperm whales. On a recent morning, crews prepared the two identical blue-and-white whaling ships for an annual monthlong hunt in nearby waters.” [Ibid]

April is the whale hunting season, with much of the hunting done by coastal whalers like Ayukawa Whaling. April has traditionally been the town’s most festive month, especially when large whales were brought ashore. Ayukawahama was at its peak in the years after World War II, when Japan’s whaling industry boomed as a provider of scarce protein and whaling boats from Ayukawahama ranged from Alaska to the Antarctic. “Those were the glory days of Ayukawahama,” Fackler wrote, “when the population swelled to more than 10,000 and whaling crews swaggered down streets that bustled with crowds drawn by cabarets and movie theaters. Today, Ayukawahama plays up its whaling history for tourists. Smiling cartoon whales adorn shop fronts and even manhole covers. The town also built its own whaling museum, which was gutted by the tsunami. [Ibid]

Residents of Ayukawahama have said Tokyo should negotiate with the International Whaling Commission to allow them to double the size of the coastal hunt, even if it meant giving up the Antarctic program. They have broken long-held taboos to speak out against the government-run Antarctic hunts, which they say invite international criticism that threatens the much more limited coastal hunts by people in this traditional whaling town.

One Ayukawahama resident told the New York Times, “Antarctic whaling does nothing to help this town.” Other local residents said that with fewer people eating whale, the days were numbered for all kinds of whaling and that the government should just let it naturally disappear. “Japan doesn’t like being told what to do,” another resident, a former manager at the now-defunct Japan Whaling Company, said. “But like it or not, whaling is dying.”

Ayukawahama Whaling after the Tsunami

Ayukawahama was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. See Tsunami

“Japan’s tsunami seems to have succeeded---where years of boycotts, protests and high-seas chases by Western environmentalists had failed---in knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry, Fackler wrote. “This could be the final blow to whaling here,” said Makoto Takeda, a 70-year-old retired whaler. “So goes whaling, so goes the town.” “I wish we could eat whale meat every day,” another resident said. “But the whalers are so old, I think they’ll just quit or retire after what happened.” Yet another said, “There was Sea Shepherd, and now this.” “Whaling is finished.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, March 24, 2011]

The employees of Ayukawa Whaling survived but lost their jobs. The owner of the company, 74-year-old Minoru Ito, told the New York Times he intends to rebuild, hopefully in time for an autumn hunt off the northern island of Hokkaido, though he acknowledged the recovery might take more time. He said the most costly part would be getting the whaling ships back in the water, an undertaking that the company cannot afford without government help. [Ibid]

Once the ships are ready, Ito told the New York Times he wants to hire back the employees. However, he admitted that the waves might have scared some employees away, from both whaling and Ayukawahama.”If we can fix the ships, then we’re back in business,” Ito, whose father was also a whaler. “They should not be afraid, because another tsunami like that won’t come for another 100 years.” Another resident said the town needed to resume whaling as soon as possible to lift its spirits. [Ibid]

Initially after the disaster there were food shortages and people worried about just surviving. One resident told the New York Times. “We are so hungry that if they brought a whale ashore now, the whole town would rush down to eat it.” Shin Okada, an official in the disaster-response office, said the town had its hands full bringing in more food and finding shelter for the homeless. He said officials had not had time to think about steps to revive the fishing and whaling industries. [Ibid]

Japanese Whale Industry and Illegal Whaling

whaling ship
Japan and Norway have the world's largest whaling industries. Shimonoseki in southern Honshu has been the home of major whaling operation since 1899 when Japan adopted the “Norway method” of hunting whales with steam-fired harpoons. The city once was home to a shipbuilding industry that produced steel-hulled whale ships and a fleet of 40 whaling ships that ventured as far away as the Antarctic Ocean and returned with frozen carcasses. Now only two ships remain. The Whale Museum in Shimonoseki is closed. It is a large concrete blue whale. When it was open visitors entered through the tail, walked past exhibits and exited out the mouth.

To give the local whaling industry a boost junior high school students are given tours of the last remaining whaling ships and a whale cooking festival, with tips on making whale burgers and whale carpaccio, is held. Slabs of bright red whale are still seen in stores and markets. Whale restaurants offer fried whale tail, grilled whale tongue wafers, boiled blubber and whale sashimi.

Japan wants to import whale products from Norway. Norwegians like whale meat but they don't like blubber, which makes up more than half the animal. They want to ship the blubber to Japan, where people like to eat it fried and served as sashimi. Whale meat from Norway has been shipped to Japan disguised as mackerel.

Studies of whale meat showed not all of the whale meat in Japan comes from legally-harvested minke whales. Some comes from endangered species and dolphins and porpoise. Also much of it has high levels of mercury, dioxin and PCBs.

According to one survey, 3.3 percent of whale meat sold at markets was illegally harvested. In Japan you can find meat for blue whales and humpback whales. It is not clear where the meat comes from. Meat from endangered humpback whales is sold at Hiroshima supermarkets. In May 1994, police broke up a whale smuggling operation, arresting three and seizing a Korean fishing boat with 11 tons of whale meat on board.

Whaling Rights and Japan

In defiance of requests from the international community, Japan announced in 2000 it planned to kill 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde's whales in the North Pacific. This decision was especially controversial because not so long ago these whales were nearly hunted to extinction. The Japanese have argued hunting these whales would not be harmful "because their populations are relatively abundant and in good condition." Minke whales in the northwest Pacific were added to the research whaling list in 2002.

whaling ship

In May 2002, the former whaling town Shimonoseki hosted an international whaling conference and Japanese used the meeting to insist on their right to whale and condemn anti-whaling nations as “mimics of Greenpeace.” Although the Japanese made little progress restoring commercial whaling they did manage to piss off many people and deny Eskimos and native peoples of the Arctic their whale-hunting quotas.

In a Asahi Shimbun survey in 2002, 47 percent of those asked supported the resumption of commercial whaling and 36 percent were against. In 1993, 54 percent were in support whale 35 percent were against it.

In June 2006, at IWC meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis, Japan and its group of small nation allies won a vote that criticized the global whaling ban indicating they might have enough votes to challenge the 1986 moratorium. A 33 to 32 votes supported a statement that the whaling ban was no longer necessary, whale were responsible for depleting fish stocks and nongovernmental organizations were a “threat.” A 75 percent vote is needed to end the moratorium.

Some Japanese complain about Japan singled out by ant-whaling groups while other whale-consuming nations such as Norway and Iceland are not.

Reasons for Resuming Whaling by Japan

Japan wants minke whales taken off the endangered list and the right to hunt around 2,000 minke whales a year. There argument for taking this number is that there are 760,000 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean alone and more than 1 million in the world's oceans, and taking 2,000 whales sould have no impact on the minke populations.

In recent years the Japanese have begun making the argument that whales eat so much fish they are starting to cause fish stocks to decline. According to these argument killing whales will result in more fish for humans to eat. One of Japan's whaling negotiators even went as far as calling mink whales "the cockroach of the ocean" because of the each large amounts of fish they eat.

One Japanese survey reported that whales annually consume between 300 million and 500 million tons of fish resources a year while the world’s fishing boats only harvest about 100 million tons. They have also gone as far as saying that decline in fish stocks are the result of whale not overfishing by humans.

One Japanese whale representative said, "We estimated the total volume of fish which are eaten by whales is approximately three or four times the world fisheries catch. Humans are in the position of the highest rank of the ecosystem. If we leave some world species untouchable, they will increase" and “compete with humans for food."

Responding to the Japanese argument, one Greenpeace representative said, "That's like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation...It’s a fairly brazen argument" coming from a country that has "wantonly exploited fisheries."

Scientific Whaling by Japan

Japan and Iceland have permission from the International Whaling Commission to kill whales for scientific research. Japanese scientists have argued they need kill the whales---dissecting their stomachs to determine what they eat, examine their skeletons and blubber for exposure to pollutants---to to fully understand whales.

Japan began research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean in 1987 and in the northwest Pacific Ocean in 1994, both of which are "in line with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling," according to the Fisheries Agency. A 1982 meeting of the IWC decided on a "temporary suspension" of commercial whaling, on condition the suspension would be reviewed by 1990. Research whaling is meant to study whales' ecological characteristics and their population in preparation for resuming commercial whaling. The plan to review the ban on commercial whaling by 1990 has been shelved due mainly to growing antiwhaling sentiment in many countries.

The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) is the body in charge of conducting whale research. It was set up in 1987 after the whale moratorium was established with $9.6 million in start up fund from Nihon Kyodo Hogei, Japan's largest whaling company.

Conservationist argue that thousands of scientist are studying whales without killing them and "scientific whaling" is “just commercial whaling in disguise.” The WWF has said that Japan could glean just as much information about whales using non-lethal biopsy darts ideal for checking DNA as they do by harpooning and killing whales.

Mark Brazil wrote in the Japan Times, “With the development of so many non-lethal research techniques---whether DNA sampling, satellite racking, telemetric tagging of analysis of feces to determine diet---the government supports for killing whales even for “research” seems as odd as killing giant pandas, Siberian tigers or Japanese cranes.”

Researchers keep the whale sex organs and ear parts for research. The meat, blubber and much of rest of the whale is sold commercially as a "byproduct" to fish markets. The oil is used to make cosmetics and perfumes. Much of the meat is sold as "whale bacon.” One whale researcher was sharply criticized for eating some of his research in home-made sashimi. The sale of whale products generates about $35 million a year. The cost of the "scientific whaling" is about $40 million. A $5 million subsidy makes up for the shortfall.

Japan is the only country engaged in scientific whaling although Iceland did some in the recent past. Any country can engage in the practice if it wants to. The IWC can review permits but not reject them. Most of the Japanese research whaling is done in the Antarctic. Some is done in the North Pacific.

Charade of Research Whaling

Jun Hoshiawa, executive director of Greenpeace Japan wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “For decades, Japan has exploited a loophole...and masqueraded its clearly commercial hunt as a “scientific research” operation. Over 10,000 whales have been killed to date, but only a handful of studies have been published...The industry, which relentlessly damages Japan’s international reputation, drains the public purse by about ¥1 billion every year.”

Douglas Chadwick, author several books on whales, wrote: “As for Japan, the flesh of minkes rendered for “research” all ends up in the country’s fish markets and restaurants which helps explain the nation’s lack of interest in nonlethal techniques that could provide the same biological data. Japanese officials insist that they need to cut open he stomachs to examine what whales are eating, even though DNA techniques now allow a thorough determination of a whale’s diet merely from small samples of the dung it leaves floating on the surface.”

Defending Research Whaling

Joji Morishita, an official with the Japan Fisheries Agency, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan supports the regulated and controlled utilization of abundant whale species such as minke whales, while strongly supporting the protection of endangered species such as blue whales or right whales...Japan has no intention of being involved in the extinction of a whale species.”

In support of “scientific whaling” and sale of whale meat, Morishita wrote: “Hundreds of scientific papers have been submitted to the IWC Scientific Committee and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals as the fruit of our research. After research and data collection have been performed, the meat is released to the Japanese commercial market, in accordance with the requirement of the paragraph 2 of Article VIII which reads: “Any whales taken under these special permits (scientific whaling) shall so far as practically be processed.”... The whaling controversy is almost always about Japan and not a few people feel that Japan is unfairly singled out. We are also curious as to why hunting deer and kangaroos is considered OK, while hunting highly populated whale species is regarded as evil.”

Japanese whalers have said they want to hunt humpback whales in the Southern Ocean sanctuary to investigate if they are competing with minke whales for food. In response to that the Australian government has said it would send ship and spotter plane into the sanctuary to monitor what the Japanese whalers were doing.

Whale Numbers Not Declining: Survey Team Says

In November 2011, Kyodo reported: “There is no sign Japan's "research whaling" has led to an overall decline in whale stocks, a team of researchers said upon completing a survey of Pacific waters off eastern Hokkaido, during which they caught 60 minke whales as planned. The research team detected 150 minke whales in the waters off Kushiro during its 52-day survey from early September. "Almost the same number of minke whales as seen a year ago came through the waters," team leader Toshiya Kishiro said. [Source: Kyodo, November 3, 2011]

“Japan has conducted research whaling off its own coast in spring and autumn in recent years, in addition to its research whaling in the Antarctic. Autumn research whaling has been conducted off Kushiro since 2002. Usually, the spring research whaling is conducted off Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, but it was transferred to Kushiro this spring after Ishinomaki was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. [Ibid]

A warm ocean current known as the Kuroshio (or Japan Current) flows northeastward along the southern part of the Japanese archipelago, and a branch of it, known as the Tsushima Current, flows into the Sea of Japan along the west side of the country. From the north, a cold current known as the Oyashio (or Chishima Current) flows south along Japan’s east coast, and a branch of it, called the Liman Current, enters the Sea of Japan from the north. The mixing of these warm and cold currents helps produce abundant fish resources in waters near Japan. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Whale Catches by Japan

The Japanese have killed more than 10,000 large whales since starting its scientific whaling in 1987. They have killed about 600 to 700 whales a year in the early and mid 2000s, including the 440 minke whales it is allowed by the IWC to take from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica "for scientific purposes." Norway takes about 460 minke whales a year.

Despite a IWC vote that rejected Japan’s plan to expand its quota Japan decided unilaterally to double its 2000 quota. Japan planned ro kill 1,070 minke whales in Antarctica and the North Atlantic in 2006, 400 more than in 2005. In 2006, Japan also planned to hunt 10 fins whales in the Antarctic and total of 160 Bryde’s, sei and sperm whales in the Pacific.

Japanese whaling peaked in 2005-2006 when over 1,200 whales were caught. During the 2006-2007 whaling season in Antarctica, Japanese whaling ships returned early, with only half the catch they had expected to take. The hunt was dogged by criticism from Australia, New Zealand and other nations, harassment by anti-whaling vessels and a fire on one of the ships. The whale catch in the Antarctic Ocean in 2007-2008 was 551, all minke whales, well short of the target of 900 whales.

In 2007 Japan said it wanted to take 50 humpback whales to expand its “research” of whales but backed down after being sharply criticized by Australia. If Japan had gone through with the plan it would have been the first known large scale hunting of humpbacks since 1963. Japan has also announced plans to harvest sei whales.

Japan has a quota of 1,300 whales in 2008-2009, including 850 in the Antarctic and 450 caught around Japan. Japan caught 680 whales (679 minke whales and 1 fin whale) in the Antarctic far short of its target of 850.

The IWC has no control over the number of whales that are hunted for research purposes. Some have suggested it is time for Japan to come clean and admit it is really carrying commercial whaling and for the IWC to allow Japan to carry out commercial whaling but at substantially reduced numbers under the control of the IWC. The problem for Japan under such as scheme is that it hands over control of decisions on whaling that it now makes itself to the IWC.

Japan’s New Whaling Proposal and Closing Loopholes

stomach of a minke whale
The IWC began studying a plan in early 2009 in which Japan would phase out the catching of whale in Antarctica in return for being allowed to catch minke whales in coastal waters, using ships based in the whaling ports of Abashiri in Hokkaido, Ayukawa in Miyagi Prefecture, Wada in Chiba Prefecture and Taijicho in Wakayama Prefecture.

A decision on coastal whaling is scheduled to be made in 2010. There are strict rules in the proposal. The meat must be consumed domestically and Japan must present detailed reports of how many many whales were killed and the circumstances of their deaths. It is likely Australia will oppose the proposal.

The United States and other anti-whaling countries are currently working on a deal that would close loopholes in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling in exchange for allowing the main whaling nations---Japan, Norway and Iceland---to resume much more limited commercial hunts.

In April 2010, Japan proposed lowering its catch of southern minke whales to 440 from 935 in part to gain permission to catch more whales in waters off Japan. The IWC proposed allowing Japan to hunt 200 minke whales in Japanese coastal waters in return for reducing “research whaling.” catches to 400 by 2015 and 200 by 2020.

At a IWC meeting in June 2010, a proposal was put on the table to allow the resumption of commercial whaling in a limited form under a more enforceable scheme. In the end it was decided to postpone taking up the proposal for a year.

Promoting Whale Meat in Japan

To keep the whaling industry alive the government subsidies the whale hunts and spends money trying to convince Japanese to eat whale meat.

Japan subsidizes whale burgers and whale meat meals in schools. Children are encouraged to eat whale meat in colorful brochures entitled “Delicious Whales” that describe hunting them as a national heritage and say, “Even if we capture 2,000 whales a year for100 years, it’s okay because the whale numbers are growing.”

The Japanese whaling industry has said that it is important to boost demand for whale meat so that money will be available for research. It markets whale to restaurant chains that offer whale sashimi and fried whale and food processors that produce cooked whale and canned broiled whale. It is also markets whale meat to hospitals and universities.

In Wakayama there has been an aggressive campaign to make whale a fixture in public school lunches. Nutritionists have developed an array of dishes such as whale meat meatballs, whale hamburgers, deep-fried marinated whale fillet that were offered in 339 schools in 2005. The moved has been widely supported by parents and teachers in the traditional whaling own of Shirahama.

Most young people have never tried whale. In an effort to get the younger generation interested in whale meat, free whale-meat sushi rolls are handed in places where young people hang out in Tokyo. A restaurant chain that added whale meat said they attracted few customers with it. One diner who tried some told AP, “To put it simply. Whale meat tastes horrible.”

Other tactics have included taking elementary school students on field trips to watch the butchering of Baird’s beaked whales. The efforts has born little fruit. Over 4,000 tons of whale meat still lies is stored in freezers because no one wants to eat it.

Image Sources: 1) 4) 16) Ray Kinnane 2) BBC 3) Japan Whaling Association 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) Institute of Cetacean Research 13), 14) 15) Greenpeace

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2012

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