2nd September 2019

Whale Is Back On The Menu In Japan After 33 Years

After 33 years since the last commercial whaling in Japan, the country has officially restarted hunting the ocean giants.

Despite international criticism and outcry, Japan has withdrawn from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which formally prohibited whaling in the country.

What does this mean?

It means the country is now back commercially hunting whales, and whale is officially back on Japan’s menu.

Whale hunting has led to their near extinction before

In the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, whales were hunted to such an extent that they were brought to the brink of extinction.

Towards the end of the 20th century, people began to realise that their methods of whale hunting were not sustainable.

It is at this point that the IWC was formed – 88 countries joined the body, which dedicated itself to the conservation of whales.

The many conservationists who were against whaling for ethical reasons were pleased, however countries with a traditional whaling culture, like Japan, Norway and Iceland, were not.

However, the ban was not universal.

Indigenous peoples were able to carrying on whaling, whilst hunting the animals for scientific purposes was also permitted.

This is where it gets controversial…

Japan has continued to hunt whales, despite the ban under the IWC

Japan has a complex relationship with whale hunting, a topic which has brought the country much controversy over the years.

And, whilst you may assume that the IWC’s ban meant that Japan completely ceased its hunting of whales, you’d be wrong.

Under the guise of ‘scientific research’ the country continued to hunt, reportedly killing somewhere between 200 and 1,200 whales each year.

What’s their excuse? They’re ‘monitoring stocks’ in order to gauge a sustainable quota for whale hunting.

People saw through this, however, as the animals caught for this purpose ultimately ended up on the food market.

Now whalers are free to hunt in Japan after withdrawing from IWC

Wanting to resume commercial whale hunting, Japan asked the IWC if they could resume whaling if they kept to sustainable quotas.

However, the group disallowed the bid.

This meant that Japan left the conservational body, becoming fully effective in July 2019.

Boats were sent out as soon as they were able, and whales were pretty quickly brought back, butchered, and sold.

The Japanese argue that whaling is a part of their cultural heritage

Similarly to the other whaling countries mentioned earlier, Japan argues that the hunting and eating of whales is traditional and an important part of their culture.

Whilst this is true of some coastal communities, who have hunted the animals for centuries, historically whale meat would not have been available to those who lived further in land.

However this all changed following World War Two.

As other resources becoming less available, whale meat became a more accessible and viable meat option replacement.

It is due to this that between 1940 and 1960, whale was the most popular meat in Japan.

So where do we draw the line?

Japan’s whaling remains controversial

According to the International Union for Conservation of nature, the whale species most popular for hunters, the Minke and Bryde, are not technically endangered, and their numbers are in fact increasing.

This therefore means that in terms of whale populations, Japan’s whaling industry will not have a huge impact.

However, this does not satisfy everyone.

Groups like Greenpeace continue to criticise Japan’s decision to continue whale hunting.

Sam Annesley, the Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan has deplored the action.

“The world’s oceans face multiple threats such as acidification and plastic pollution, in addition to overfishing.”

“As a country surrounded by oceans where people’s lives have been heavily reliant on marine resources, it is essential for Japan to work towards healthy oceans. Japan’s government has so far failed to resolve these problems.”

He followed: “As the chair of the G20 in 2019, the Japanese government needs to recommit to the IWC and prioritise new measures for marine conservation.”


By Charlotte Ellis