This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
On July 1st, following a 30-year hiatus on commercial whaling, a fleet of Japanese vessels will depart from the city of Kushiro, Hokkaido for a two-month hunting expedition in the waters off the nation’s east coast. The five whalers—belonging to six different Japanese operators—will hunt Berardius or “beaked” whales until around the end of August, The Japan Times reports, before regathering in Kushiro in September and setting off to hunt minke whales until October.
The expeditions will signal an abrupt end to Japan’s memorandum on commercial whaling, after the country controversially withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at the end of last year. While Japan joined the IWC in 1988, however, it has been hunting whales over the past few years for self-purported “research purposes”—a move that many around the world have criticised as a cover for commercial whaling. In a little over a fortnight, Japanese whalers will start operating in plain view, slaughtering the animals for meat without the pretense of doing so for any scientific benefit.
Whaling operators from around Japan are currently making final arrangements with relevant bodies to hold a ceremony the day they set sail from Kushiro, where they will hunt for about a week before sailing south toward Minamiboso, in Chiba prefecture. The vessels have been carrying out the last round of so-called scientific whaling around Abashiri port in Hokkaido since the start of June.
While whale meat was once a dietary staple in Japan, a recent report by the Asahi newspaper found that the animals now make up for just 0.1 percent of the meat that Japanese people consume. While in 1962 some 233,000 tons of whale meat was sold on the market, these days that number has dropped to just 3,000 tons per year. It’s not entirely clear, therefore, why Japan is deciding to resume commercial whaling now—although it’s been suggested that one motivation might be the desire to maintain the centuries-old cultural practice.
In July last year, Japan sought approval from the IWC to resume commercial whaling: claiming they would agree to quotes set by the Commission and only target species with sustainable population numbers, The Japan Times reported. After the IWC refused, Japan announced that they would withdraw from the agreement and revive their commercial whaling industry.
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