The International Whaling Commission placed a moratorium on any sort of commercial whaling in 1986, in the Antarctic due to the obliteration of whale populations from commercial hunting. This did not stop the Japanese who read the small print and has been undertaking whaling for ‘research purposes’ ever since. In an article in the Japanese Times C.W.Nicol (an active environmentalist, citizen of Japan and holder of an MBE) stated that there had been ‘precious little research to show for it all’. The number of whales is less than 10% of what it was originally before whaling began. In 2003 Steve Palumbi of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in California, USA and his colleagues used DNA samples to estimate that humpback whales could have numbered 1.5 million prior to the onset of commercial whaling in the 1800s.
In March, the International Court Of Justice ruled that Japan could not carry out its annuals whaling in the Antarctic due to the guise of ‘scientific whaling’ (a loophole in the International Whaling Commission meaning that Japan carries out whaling to better understand whale populations) not being compatible with the rulings or any international law. It was Australia and New Zealand that brought in front on the International Court of Justice after turning a blind eye for many years, the governments took a stand to state that the ‘scientific’ whaling was really commercial whaling to fuel market in Japan for whale meat. Japan currently sells around 7,500 tons of edible whale meat annually from ‘scientific’ hunts, small whale and dolphin hunts and ‘bycatch’. Demand continues to fall and consumption of whale meat per person has dropped from about 2,000 grams in 1967 to about 50 grams in 2005. Japan is being left with huge stockpiles of whale meat as consumption declines. Japan agreed to stop whaling in the Antarctic. No ruling was made over the whaling programme in the Pacific and as a result of that whales have been harpooned and strung up to carve meat for a dying trade.
Japan has been reported, from the Japanese Fisheries Agency, that 30 minke whales have been killed between April and June of 2014.
In the 2012-2013 Antarctic season Japan killed a reported 103 minke whales.
In 2011/2012 Japan killed some 445 whales in total.
This figure includes 297 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales, 2 fin whales, 95 sei whales and one sperm whale.
In 2010/2011 Japan also killed some 445 whales.
In late June of 2014, images emerged of a whale being carved up in front of school children in Wada, Japan. Japan’s supporters of eating whale meat say that it is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, and accuses western critics of cultural imperialism. “The Japanese whalers know that whaling is a dying tradition and thus they are desperate to promote it to younger generations,” said Captain Paul Watson the founder of the conservation group Sea Shepherd. A Baird’s beaked whale was chopped, disembowelled and carved as the students watched on. The children were told to shut their eyes if they got scared. Patrick Ramage from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said “Japanese school children should be meeting whales through whale watching, not eating whale meat.” It has been reported that one student said “Stop! It’s so pitiable!”.
“It’s our right to take and eat whale within our waters,” said a worker whose firm processes and sells whale meat.
Traditions have to be respected. It is hard to stop traditions of hundreds of years but as less whale meat is being consumed in Japan and roughly around 4,000 tonnes is being held in a freezing area, it begs the question, why ignore international moratoriums and rulings to keep chunks of meat in a freezer? Japan is not the only country who takes part in commercial whaling but it may be one f the last if the Australian and New Zealand government pressurise Abe next week.