The History of Japanese Whaling


Japanese whaling can be traced back hundreds of years. The practice is an important part of Japanese culture. Whaling is simply the hunting of whales for meat and oil. It is believed that whaling in Japan started at around 1200 A.D, but it developed into a booming industry in the 1890s. Like most whaling countries, the Japanese also hunt whales beyond their territorial waters. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding whale hunting, especially by the Japanese Fisheries Agency.

The Evolution of Whaling

Originally, fishermen used to drive whales into nets where they were harpooned dozens of times. A wooden plug or long sword was then driven into the punctured skin. This hunting technique was used for centuries until more efficient methods were developed in the 20th century. For instance, fishing was done on modern steam ships. The tips of harpoon guns were loaded with grenades. These changes greatly contributed to the turnover of Japanese whaling companies. There has been a lot of outcry and public outrage about whaling activities around the world. Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to Japanese whaling activities. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) as well as the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) have done their best to ban or regulate whaling activities, but the Japanese just seem to find loopholes everywhere.

The Second World War

Japan was heavily involved in World War II, meaning that citizens had to abandon other food production activities to fight for their country or hide their families to protect them from aggression. This meant that Japanese citizens had little to eat during and after the war. Whaling was seen as a formidable solution to Japan's food crisis. In 1947, more than 50% of Japans animal proteins was derived from whales. During the late 1960s to early 1970s whale meat accounted for 25% of all Japanese diet.

IWC Moratorium on Commercial Whaling

In the year 1986, whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission so that stocks could recover. Unfortunately, there was a loophole in the moratorium. For instance, whaling was only banned if it was for commercial purposes. This was translated to mean that whales could be hunted but for other purposes. In the IWC agreement, there was a provision that made it legal for whales to be hunted for scientific research purposes. The agreement also allowed whale meat from the studies to be sold in restaurants and shops. Most IWC (International Whaling Commission) members knew that this rule would be exploited by pro-whaling countries, so they strongly opposed it. Nowadays, Japanese whaling for commercial purposes is done under the guise of scientific research. These activities have pitted anti and pro-whaling countries against each other.

Why Japanese Whaling Persists

Whaling by the Japanese continues to thrive for a number of reasons. Many arguments have be put forth to support these activities. The following are just a few of them.

Modern Japanese Whaling

Japan is known for its factory ships. In most countries fishing vessels have to go back to shore to offload fish for processing. In Japan, however, fishing is done and the meat processed on-board. The finished product is then preserved. These modern fishing vessels are basically processing factories that are fully equipped. A typical whaling fleet consists of several fishing vessels, factory ship, harpoon ship, a supply ship, and security patrol vessels.

In recent years, there has been a lot of drama in the industry. Conservatory groups have sent vessels to intercept whaling fleets. These interceptor teams consist of several vessels and helicopters. The interceptors can watch over the activities of the Japanese "research vessels" and prevent them from doing anything that is against international law. These efforts have been very successful with whalers complaining that their catch have reduced significantly due to these active protests at sea. Intercepting whaling fleets and actively protesting against whaling are seen as the most effective ways of ending the practice, or keep it in check. In addition to taking the battle against whaling to the high seas, conservatory groups and anti-whaling countries like Australia have also taken the battle to the corridors of justice.

Is Whaling in Japan Bad Business?

Many Japanese citizens and NGOs have joined anti-whaling campaigns. While some have made the switch so as to help prevent whales from becoming extinct, many have done this because it does not make good business sense for the government to continue using millions of dollars to support the whaling industry. The Japanese government spends around 12 million dollars annually in direct subsidies alone to the industry. In addition to this amount, the government also spends tons of cash to fund promotions and marketing campaigns for whale meat. Millions more are spent on recruiting countries to the IWC. The government has spent much more on indirect subsidies. Japanese citizens consider this spending unnecessary especially with claims that prime cut whale meat is being smuggled into the country from factory ships for personal gain. These moneys could have been put to better use like funding educational and infrastructure projects among other things.

Do People eat Whale Meat

In Japan, sea food is considered a staple. On the other hand, whale meat is considered one of the most popular and most affordable types of meat in the country. This fact is well appreciated by anti-whaling groups. However, uncontrolled whaling can diminish whale stocks. For this reason, IWC guidelines on commercial and Aboriginal limits must be observed. Furthermore, researchers should get research permits before they start whaling for scientific research purposes. No whaling should be done on designated whale sanctuaries.

Both pro and anti-whaling countries have strong and valid arguments. What comes out clearly is the fact that there needs to be proper management of whale stocks especially in the Southern Ocean where most of the world's whales live. The Japanese government has been under intense pressure from the international community to reduce their hunt for whales in the Southern Ocean. The government has also been urged to stop hunting endangered whale species. Hunting quotas for certain species are expected to reduce as the government affirms its commitment to whale stock management efforts by the International Whaling Commission.