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Japan Was Ordered to Stop Hunting Whales, But No One Is Eating Them Anyway

Whale meat has been literally piling up and a 2012 poll found that most Japanese hadn’t bought a single whale fillet in the previous year.

by Mary Emily O'Hara
Mar 31 2014, 8:45pm

Photo by Reuters

The United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday ordered Japan to stop holding its whale hunts — just as consumers have lost their taste for the exotic meat.

Whale meat has been literally piling up in the marketplace because no one wants to eat it anymore.

An October 2012 poll found that most Japanese surveyed hadn’t bought a single slice of whale fillet in the previous year.

Statistics from Japan’s Fisheries Agency show that the amount of whale meat stockpiled in freezers, with nowhere to go, just about doubled in 10 years. In 2002, there was 2,500 tons of excess whale meat housed in port freezers. By 2012, the amount of leftover whale was up to 4,600 tons.

During that same period, the number of whale meat processors and distributors declined by half.

Even the whale hunters have nearly disappeared. Japan now has only one commercial whaling company, with less than 200 fishermen. That’s down from a peak of about 10,000 in the 1960’s.

The Japanese can't stop eating endangered sea mammals. Read more here.

While consumer demand for whale meat has dropped, it has not deterred Japan in the past from whaling for "science" and research.

Australia had asked The Hague to investigate the whaling in 2010, decrying Japan’s claims that it needed to kill more than a thousand whales per year for scientific research. Australians said the science ploy was simply cover for an enormous commercial whale meat market.

The ICJ cited Japan for three violations of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling: violating the moratorium on commercial whaling; the moratorium on ‘factory ships;’ and the prohibition of whaling in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean sanctuary.

Greenpeace is one of several international groups that have worked to end Japan’s Antarctic whaling program. In 2008, Greenpeace surveyed over a thousand people in Japan and found that they were mostly unaware and unconcerned. Nearly half of those polled said they had “no opinion” on whaling, and 85 percent responded that they hadn’t even known Japan hunted whales in the Antarctic Ocean whale sanctuary.

Phil Kline, the USA Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace, told VICE News the ICJ ruling is a “huge victory” but said Greenpeace isn’t ready to rest on the win.

“Greenpeace will continue to monitor Japan’s so-called scientific whaling to ensure that they do not find any more loopholes to hunt whales,” he said.

“Since this case was specifically focused on Antarctica Greenpeace will continue to work to end all commercial whaling including Japan's hunts in the North Pacific and commercial whaling in Norway and Iceland,” Kline said.

The International Whaling Commission set a zero catch limit in 1986. Japan has hunted and killed around 1,000 whales a year using the “research” claim, mostly in the sanctuary.

Now, conservationists are watching to see whether the Japanese government will try to circumvent the ruling in new ways. Kline urged Japan to “abide by the ICJ decision, scrap the factory ship Nisshin Maru and not attempt to continue whaling by amending the program and claiming it is now scientific.”

Whether Japan will fully comply remains to be seen.

Last week, the International Whaling Commission gathered representatives from various countries in Brazil to discuss creating a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic. Japan didn’t attend.

Instead, the Japanese Fisheries Agency sent a biting letter calling whale sanctuaries “redundant” and “not ecologically justified.”

Follow Mary Emily O’Hara on Twitter: @maryemilyohara