Japan has been hunting and eating whales for centuries. And continues to do so today. Despite the political guise of whaling for scientific purposes, much of the blood red whale meat ends up in Japan’s fish markets and supermarkets for public consumption. Is Japan justified in whale hunting and being unfairly attacked by crackpot greenies, or are they really as cruel and inhumane as the Western news reports make out? Whichever side you are on, the fact remains that Japan’s “bi-product” of its scientific research program ends up on the plates of Japanese consumers, and is still an extremely lucrative market. We at stippy.com went to Tsukiji Fish Markets in Tokyo to get graphic evidence of whale on sale. The shopkeeper was even kind enough to point out which whale he was researching on his “Whales of the World” poster (Click on image to see an enlarged version). The Catch of the Day was Fin Whale on that particular day. Without siding with either the greenies or the Japanese, let us introduce you to the background of this issue, with some real facts. You decide for yourself which side of the fence you are on, and if you feel like letting us know, leave a comment at the bottom of the article.
Whaling Cultures in Japan and the West:
Japan’s recorded history of whale hunting goes back to the Jomon Era (縄文時代, from around 10,000 BC to 300 BC), with archaeologists having found hand spears etc from this time. However according to historians, whaling on an organized scale began in Japan in the early 1600’s. The traditional name for “whale” was “isana” (勇魚), meaning brave fish. Whale meat was a delicacy served at special occasions and festivals.
During the same period, whaling was becoming popular in Western Europe, especially in England where whale fat was burned to fuel street lights, and whale oil was used in Rolls Royce gearboxes. This created an increased demand for whales, and hunting on a global scale began during this period. (Think “Moby Dick”, the 1851 tale of the heroic Englishman captain who leads his crew on the hunt for the mighty whale.) In fact one of the objectives of early migrants from England to New Zealand and the Pacific was to search for new whale resources to sell back into Europe.
Following the invention of the light bulb (replacing the street light), efforts in whaling dropped somewhat in the West, which never had a culinary whale culture. Although it continued in other countries including Japan, and the 200 years from 1770-1970 became retrospectively known as the Era of Excessive Fishing （乱獲時代）, or the Whaling Olympics (鯨オリンピック). It was during this period that Blue Whales (シロナガスクジラ） and Southern Right Whales （セミクジラ） were fished to dangerously low levels, which sparked the cultural clash between Japan and the West that began in the 1970’s and continues to today.
The Save the Whales Movement of the 1970’s:
Enter US popular culture and Christian righteousness in the form of Olivia Newton-John and the 1970’s “Save The Whales” campaign. This was perhaps Greenpeace’s most successful campaign, and is rightly credited with aiding the ailing Southern Right Whale population back to sustainable levels. Greenpeace made extensive use of new media, such as television, and Hollywood stars to gain support for their movement. Unfortunately, while they could have stuck with the facts such as “some species of whales are on the brink of extinction!” and been just as successful, they also took a populist angle stating that “whales are intelligent animals, and should not be killed!” This took strong hold in especially the US which did not have a whaling history, and the image of a whale became synonymous with saving endangered animals. And although the populations of endangered whale have been greatly restored, this image continues in the West today, and is center of the commercial whaling battle being fought through the International Whaling Commission.
The International Whaling Commission:
The IWC （国際捕鯨委員会） was founded in 1946 under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (国際捕鯨取締条約） to regulate, in a commercial context, whaling and whale populations by preventing over-fishing of whales. It was initially signed by 15 counties, and Japan was not involved (we suspect it had more serious matters to deal with in 1946.) This body effectively watches over commercial whaling to ensure the sustainability of whale stockpiles. It was not founded on the presences of conservation.
In the 1960’s, countries such as England and Holland which had been strong whalers, finding decreasing returns from commercial whaling, gave up the industry completely, and started putting more efforts into conservation. The number of countries pushing for a complete ban on commercial whaling grew dramatically during the 1970’s partly thanks to Greenpeace and the Save the Whales effort.
In 1982, the IWC determined that there was not sufficient scientific data on the population numbers and environmental conditions of various whale species, and in a majority vote, voted in favour of a commercial whaling moratorium, banning the commercial hunting of whales. This was implemented in 1986, and still stands today.
(There are over 70 species of whales in the world. However, the IWC only watches over 12 species. These IWC whales (as they are called) are Minke, Blue, Fin, Sei, Bryde’s and Humpback which are baleen whales, the Sperm and Bottenosed which are toothed whales, as well as the Beluga, Narwhale, Baird’s beak and Pilot whales which are in fact dolphins (or from the Delphinapterus family.)
The 1982 moratorium caused outrage in traditional whaling countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, who have never really agreed with this and have all looked to exploit loopholes. Specifically, the ICRW states that “contracting Governments may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research”. From 1982, Japan and Norway halted their commercial whaling and began killing whales under the provision for scientific whaling.
Since 1994 however, Norway has abandoned the claim of “science” and has openly called its whaling “commercial”, which the country is allowed to do because it filed an official objection when the moratorium was first put in place.
Japan however did not do so, and has taken a more condescending stance towards the moratorium, and continued to fish under the name of scientific research, officially to obtain data on population numbers, age and sex makeup, and natural death rates. Japan states that the quality of its research research results are thought of as high quality. And the logic behind the meat being sold in the consumer market is the whale meat not used in research should not be wasted, and is sold to prevent waste, as well as to fund further research. In other countries carrying out scientific research, this meat is thrown out. (A kilo of whale meat costs about 2500 yen wholesale, with the choicest cut, part of the tail, costing three times as much. By the time it reaches supermarket shelves, the price can have risen ten-fold.)
Numbers and Statistics – The Facts:
The table below shows the estimated whale populations from the IWC.
|Minke Whale||Southern Hemisphere||761,000|
|North West Pacific and Okhotsk Sea||25,000|
|Bowhead Whale||Bering-Chukchi- Beaufort Seas||10,500|
|Fin Whale||North Atlantic||30,000|
|Humpback Whale||Western North Atlantic||11,570|
|Blue Whale||Southern Hemisphere||1,700|
|Pilot Whale||Central & Eastern North Atlantic||78,000|
Source: International Whaling Commission Official Homepage
Additional, estimate populations include:
- Sperm Whales – from 200,000 to 2.2 million,
- Bryde’s Whales – in the hundreds of thousands, and
- Sei Whales – approx. 54,000.
So with that in mind, exactly how many whales is Japan hunting each year?
Since 1987, under the name of scientific research, the IWC has allowed Japan to fish 6065 tonnes of only Minke whales (thats about 400 actual whales). And since 2001, Japan has applied to increase this to include another 100 Minkes in the North Atlantic, 50 Bryde’s, 10 Sperm whales, and 39 Sei whales. That’s all folks.
So why the Big Problem?
With such a raging debate over such small number of whales, it appears to have developed into a cultural clash. Greenpeace has stooped to doing reckless things, such as when Japanese whalers have harpooned a whale, attaching its own dinghy in protest around the rope and whale being pulled up, somehow expecting the whaling boat to stop hauling it in. This has already resulted in damage and injuries for boats and people on both sides. Even if whales are that intelligent, how many whale lives is a human life worth?
This shows how rational thought in this conflict has been replaced by raw emotion.
This video shows an actual high seas collision that occurred in the Southern Ocean between a Japanese whaling boat, and a Greenpeace boat. It was highly publicised at the time, and the marketing power of Greenpeace had the world believing it was all the Japanese boat’s fault. I am no boat captain, but looking at this, the Greenpeace boat was in a position to prevent the accident more than the Japanese boat was:
On the other hand, the Japanese side have made some childish moves. At the IWC meeting held in Shimonoseki in 2002, they had the audacity to serve up whale meat for lunch to the delegates of the participating countries, apparently in an effort to show that whale meat actually tastes good”. Here is the specific whale recipe prepared before the IWC Meeting. They have also contempt for the IWC by overtly buying votes from countries new to the Commission, such as Mongolia, one of the most landlocked countries in the world, which should need no place in the IWC at all.
Despite all the childish games, throwing of stones, and poking with sticks; from the perspective of ensuring the sustainability of whale populations, the IWC seems in fact to be functioning adequately. The question of whether or not Japan should be allowed to sell whale meat on the market should be something that all countries sit down and discuss like adults, based on fact, not blind faith in the supposed intellect of an animal. And whether eating it is “right” or not, should then be up to whoever is sitting at the dinner table.
As long as my children and their children will be able to see and enjoy this large animal of the sea, I don’t have a problem if they enjoy whale meat with perhaps a bit of ginger, wasabi and garlic. What do you think? Please leave a comment telling us where you stand, and more importantly why?