Japan: Whaling. Scientific research or commercial hunting?

Whaling is a very ancient tradition in many countries where fishing is a primary activity and Japan is one of those having practiced whaling for some thousands of years. In the 1980s, though, the necessity of a break in the indiscriminate killing of cetaceans made the international community intervene and establish rules to follow in order to prevent the extermination of the species.

Since 1986, when the International Whaling Commission (IWC)'s moratorium was enforced, commercial whaling is prohibited in Japan. Only scientific whaling is allowed. But this is often regarded by environmental organizations and anti-whaling countries as a mere cover to continue the commercial hunting as id: matumo sums up [ja].


On July 23rd in 1982, the ban for all kinds of commercial whaling was announced and this was eventually enforced from 1986.
In Japan whaling has been practiced since the Jomon Era, around 8000 years ago and some ruins found in Iki City of Nagasaki Prefecture brought to light evidence of continued whaling in the Yayoi Era.
At present only research whaling is allowed, but a lot of whales hunted become food under the guise of ‘scientific’ research.
Whale meat. Flickr user id: Gilgongo

Whale meat. Flickr user id: Gilgongo

Last year, in June, two activists members of Greenpeace Japan were arrested for stealing a box of whale meat from a scientific whaling fleet, which they presented to Tokyo Public Prosecutor to expose a whale-meat smuggling scandal.
A blogger reports [ja] one of the indicted, Jun'ichi Sato,'s words.


After the war, the Japanese were given the OK by General MacArthur for whaling as food source for the people. My generation knows it well as at the elementary school we used to have whale meat for lunch.
In the 1980s savage whaling and the trade of whale meat were banned and the South Pole became a safe area (for the protection of the species) but Japan rejected that resolution.


Under the guise of ‘scientific’ research every year some 1400 whales are hunted. (Though in reality it is commercial whaling) The Japanese Ministry of Fisheries gives permission for this ‘research’ to a company called Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd and every year aids it with 1.2 billion Yen subsidy. (State Affairs)
According to a source within the scientific whaling fleet “there is a quota for whaling but all the hunted whales cannot be towed, so it is a continuous ‘whaling and throwing away’”. (I'm surprised at this.)

Sato-san, who risks with his companion up to 10 years of jail for theft, comments [ja] on the question in his blog.


Many Japanese believe the propaganda that ‘whales eat too many fish and the quantity of fish for us is decreasing so it's better to cull the population of whales’.
Such propaganda has been spread by the Institute of Cetacean Research (1) but last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adopted a resolution which refuted such a belief (2) Also the fact that it is now clear that foreign scientists criticize that theory made Mr. Morishita [a Japan Fisheries Agency Counselor] concede that the propaganda had no scientific grounds.



Australian Environment Minister Garrett presented a project for a scientific research to run from 2009 to 2014 during which no whale in the Antarctic oceans would be killed.
The scientists of all countries were invited to participate in this project and every year they will carry out the research while receiving advice from the scientific commission of IWC, a method which greatly differs from the way Japan chooses to carry out its ‘scientific’ hunting.



Japan has not signaled its participation in this research proposal. However if Japan is really serious about scientific whaling in the Antarctic Sea, it would be a requirement to participate in a project like this one of not killing whales, and demonstrate its position of banning hunting in the Southern oceans in order not to diminish the number of whales. If this is not the case the stated purpose of ‘scientific research’ whaling is clearly something different from a purely scientific investigation.

(2)IUCN「鯨類と漁業の関係に関する決議」 (PDF)

(1) “Whales eat sardines, salmon, Alaska Pollack etc., many of which are used by human beings as fishing resources. That quantity corresponds to three to five times the amount of the global haul of fish. The impact on the resources available as food for humans is enormous”
(Pamphlet of the Institute of Cetacean Research Why do we make research on whales?)
(2) IUCN Relationship between fisheries and great whales [pdf, en]

At the beginning of this year, The Cove, an investigative documentary on the whaling issue was presented at the Sundance Film Festival and received the Audience Award. Id:ekojin gives us some details [ja] of the film.

アメリカのサンダンス映画祭で2009年度観客賞を受賞したのが、「The Cove」(入り江)。

Higashi Murogun, Daishicho, Wakayama Prefecture.
From now on this village, whose living depends on fishing, is likely to get a lot of attention from the whole country!
The Cove got the audience award at the American Sundance Festival of 2009.
It is a documentary film against whaling.

というのが主旨らしい。 どうやら。

In a small town that has traditionally made whaling its trademark activity, every year more than 20000 dolphins are secretly slaughtered and sold as whale meat. What's more, mercury, a poisonous substance, was found in the dolphin meat, which renders it unfit for human consumption!
Plus, those dolphins are also traded in a shady business with foreign clients.

These facts are unknown to many Japanese. It is a ‘dark side’ that clearly exists in a country which is thought to be a liberal democracy…
This is what the film is about.

Trailer of The Cove


  • Mercedes

    I saw the Cove and was disgusted by the indiscrimate culling of dolphins. The film claims that 70% of the world’s population rely on seafood for protein in their diet. It is an incurable disease on the planet that people will dominate anything they can put their hands on. I for one after watching this film will switch from my seafood diet to a seafood and meatless vegetarian diet because otherwise, I would be condoning the slaughter of 23, 000 dolphins in Taiji each year. People need to stop being focussed on themselves and superficiality and be more concerned about compassion and consideration for all other living beings and the Earth.

  • […] i que el programa de pesca de balenes del Japó és autoritzat només per a finalitats científiques i la majoria de japonesos no […]

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