After 31 years, Japan has officially reopened its commercial whaling last July 1. This move follows the country’s decision to leave the International Whaling Commission ( IWC) last September.
IWC is in charge of conserving whale populations worldwide. The institution banned commercial whale hunting in 1986 due to some species are closed to extinction.
Japan decided to leave the union since the organization voted down its plan to recommence commercial whaling for species labeled by Japanese officials as “recovered.” The country officially left the organization last June 30.
Whaling is the “practice of killing and hunting whales mostly for human consumption.”
“Whaling will be conducted in accordance with international law and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources,” says Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary.
Aside from a smaller limit of whales, other citizens pointed out that this expedition is cheaper since now they won’t travel to Antartica.
This time, the country’s quota is to kill a total of 227 whales a year — 52 minke whales, 25 sei whales, and 150 Bryde’s whales — as stated by a fisheries agency. All towns with a history of whaling could participate in the hunt within Japanese waters, or particularly in its 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
By dropping the pretense of whaling for the love of scientific research, the country hopes to escape criticism, diplomatic difficulties, and international interference.
For decades, Japanese whalers are known for exploiting a loophole in IWC’s laws, conducting so-called “scientific” whale hunts in Antartica and the North Pacific. But in 2014, the International Court of Justice discovered that whale meat is being sold in the open market and, therefore, is illegal under the Moratorium.
Japan’s history of whaling
Whale Meat became popular and was known to be the most significant source of meat after World War II, especially during the 1960s where the country suffered starvation due to food shortage, particularly on animal protein.
From the 1960s until 2019, Japanese whalers hunted minke and sei whales in the Antartica, which continues until the North Pacific waters.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) reported that from 2017 to 2018, 85 minke whales were killed in Japanese waters. Meanwhile, 134 sei and 43 minke whales were slaughtered in the North Pacific. On the other hand, from 2018 to 2019, Japanese whalers took 333 minke whales from the Southern Ocean.
The country allocates an annual research quota of 127 minke whales when hunting in Japanese waters, together with 134 sei and 43 minke whales in North Pacific hunts.
The country is known to hunt 1200 whales yearly, according to IWC. Aside from hunting whales, Japan also kill dolphins, particularly in the town of Taiji.
The first catch
Monday morning, Japan officially kickstarted operations with five vessels leaving to Northern Japan (specifically in Kushiro), and three ships set course to the country’s Southwestern region.
After a few hours, the first catch was two minke whales. As part of the traditional ceremony of purification and to celebrate, the whalers poured sake over its body.
Despite international protests and oppositions from the country’s shrinking market and a large number of anti-whaling countries, the Japanese government obviously and repeatedly stated that they want to return to commercial whaling.
Most of the Japanese citizens, such as the whaling officials, are in a celebratory mood. Some Japanese fishermen and government officials from the remote village of Ayukawa believe that commercial whaling will help them improve their local economy.
One of the fisherman and whale hunter, Masaaki Sato shared that “people here have hunted whales for a long time, so we thought it was only natural for Japan to leave the IWC and start hunting commercially again.”
For hundreds of years, the country has been hunting whales, and the Japanese government believes that eating whale meat is an integral part of their culture.
According to some experts, the move to resume commercial whaling is politically driven by its pro-whaling government officials such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But the country’s overall demand for whale meat is low.
Government data revealed that whale meat consumption is estimated to be 200,000 tonnes yearly. In recent years, it tremendously decreased to less than 5,000 tonnes annually.