Published: Wed, July 03, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Japan resumes commercial whale hunting after 31 years

Japan resumes commercial whale hunting after 31 years

Japan began its first commercial whale hunts in more than three decades on Monday, brushing aside outrage over its resumption of a practice that conservationists say is cruel and outdated.

"If the Japanese government thought that by leaving the IWC it could wash its hands of its duties under worldwide law, then it was wrong".

The whaling "will be conducted within Japan's territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone", Hideki Moronuki of the Japanese fishing ministry said earlier. And the annual catch is so far 5,000 tons, or 40 to 50 grams of whale meat per capita, which is only 0.1% of total meat consumption, according to government data.

Japan defined meat from whales caught under research whaling as a "by-product" of its scientific study of the mammal's biology.

A permanent commercial whaling ban might sound like an ordinary step, but the IWC's goal since 1946 has been "the orderly development of the whaling industry".

"This is a sad day for whale protection globally", head of campaigns Nicola Beynon said, accusing Japan of beginning a "new and shocking era of pirate whaling".

The allotted species targeted in commercial hunting are 171 mink whales, 25 sei whales and 187 Bryde's whales.

He said the resumption of commercial whaling would ensure "the culture and way of life will be passed on to the next generation".

Image copyright AFP Image caption Is eating whale meat more ethical than commercially farmed pork or chicken?

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In fact, some defenders of whaling argue that whale meat has a smaller carbon footprint than pork or beef.

The bloodied body of a Minke whale could be seen being unloaded by fishermen when the boat returned.

"We're not at all embarrassed by what we do, it's only natural", Kai said, adding that the amount of whales Japan planned to hunt would not pose a threat to their population.

Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa said in a ceremony to mark the restart of commercial whaling in Shimonoseki: "From today, I'd like whalers to catch whales by observing the quota and aim for a revival of the whaling industry".

Consumption of whale meat has declined dramatically in the last 30 years, prompting anti-whaling activists and animal rights campaigners to slam the decision to resume commercial whaling. The humpback whale is one example of successful recovery, but species such as the northern right whale have never recovered from centuries of whaling and are in critically low numbers.

Environmentalists said the launch was delayed until after a summit of leaders of G20 major economies that Japan hosted, but whaling proponents have denied this.

"What we are seeing is the beginning of the end of Japanese whaling".

Proponents of commercial whaling see it as a possibility that the government's expensive and competitive whaling program will gradually come to a standstill in the face of changing times and tastes.

Besides the question of stock sustainability, a key argument against the hunt is that harpooning whales leads to a slow and painful death. Eventually, commercial whaling might be undone by simple arithmetic.

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