Conservation

Japan Is Going to Start Commercial Whaling for the First Time in More Than 30 Years

The Japanese barely eat whale meat anymore.

by Alex Lubben
27 December 2018, 9:00pm

This article originally appeared on VICE US

The Japanese barely eat whale meat anymore, but that’s not stopping the country from jumping back into the commercial whaling industry in 2019.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary, said Wednesday that the country has decided to leave the International Whaling Commission — a multinational conservation body with more than 80 members that established a moratorium on whaling back in 1986 — and start hunting whales again in the waters around Japan.

Over the past few years, Japan has dodged the international ban and continued to whale through a loophole that allows whales to be killed in the name of science and their meat sold commercially. Japanese fisherman have been hunting minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Of the 333 minke whales Japanese whalers killed last year, 122 were pregnant females. Now, instead of heading to Antarctic waters for their catch, they’ll hunt to their own national waters.

Whale meat was once a staple of a Japanese diet, a key source of protein in an island nation with a centuries-old whaling tradition. But now, whale makes up just 0.1 percent of the meat that Japanese consume, according to the Asahi newspaper. Back in 1962, 233,000 tons of whale meat was sold on the market, according to government data reviewed by the New York Times. Now, only 3,000 tons of whale meat is sold at market every year.

Even though no one really eats much whale in Japan, hunting them is an age-old practice that goes back centuries. Some Japanese even see international conservation efforts as an effort to impose Westernization. During World War II, whale meat was crucial to feeding the country’s war-stricken population.

The cultural argument, however, hasn’t gotten much sympathy from the international conservation interests.

  • Leaders in Australia are “extremely disappointed” with Japan’s decision.
  • Greenpeace Japan said the decision to start whaling again was “out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures.”
  • New Zealand’s foreign minister, Winston Peters, said whaling was an “outdated and unnecessary practice.”

Cover image: In this Sept. 2013, photo, a minke whale is unloaded at a port after a whaling for scientific purposes in Kushiro, in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido. (Kyodo News via AP)