Bad Week For Whales As Japan Defends Slaughter Of 200 Pregnant Minkes, Calls It ‘Scientific Research’

Last December, four vessels embarked from Shimonoseki harbor in Japan with a mission. On Thursday that mission was accomplished when the fleet returned with its bloody bounty.

The cargo holds of the ships contained the bodies of 333 minke whales. Two-hundred and thirty of the whales were female, and 90 percent of the female whales were pregnant, says Reuters.

Two minke whales at a fish processing plant in Hokkaido, Japan

The Japanese Whaling Association justifies the slaughter, claiming the deadly deed in the Antarctic Ocean promotes the “management and conservation” of whales. Morally, the group defends Japan’s continued killing of whales on grounds of tradition, says the Christian Science Monitor.

In 1986, 88 countries — including Japan — signed an international moratorium on commercial whaling. One year later, Japan began calling the bloody harvests “scientific whaling,” emblazoning vessels with the word RESEARCH in bold block letters.

Japan continues to hunt whale despite international opposition

Japan maintains that information “needed for the management and conservation of whales, such as population, age structure, growth rates, age of maturity, reproductive rates, feeding, nutrition and levels of contaminants” cannot be obtained by non-lethal methods, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Although the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, provisions are in place that allow for a limited amount of scientific research of wild cetaceans.

As of 2014, none of Japan’s whale research programs had met the criteria, and the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice specifically ordered Japan to revoke existing whaling permits and forbade the nation to apply for any new permits. Prior to the ban, Japan held a permit to harvest 50 humpbacks and 850 minke whales annually.

Following the International Court of Justice’s 12-4 ruling, Japan did cease whaling operations for approximately one year. In late 2015, they defied the ICJ ruling and sent whaling vessels into Antarctic seas. Japan justifies this season’s slaughter of hundreds of minke whales, citing a “new research project” that has not yet been specifically outlawed by the International Whaling Commission or banned by the International Court of Justice.

The court was provoked to rule after Australia filed a complaint against Japan in May, 2010. The complaint alleged that the Japanese Whaling Association abused the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, touting scientific research while actually putting whale meat on dinner plates in Japan.

A representative from the Japanese Whaling Association told the ICJ that whale meat is sold to Japanese consumers “to fund research.” This would adhere to strict guidelines that allow the commercial sale of excess whale meat obtained during research.

Is it research or isn’t it?

One scientist who testified at the ICJ hearing at the Hague in 2014 was Nick Gales of the Australian Antarctic Program. Gales stated that Japan’s JARPA II program “operates in complete isolation” from any other Japanese or global research being conducted in Antarctic waters. Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister, stated that Australia opposes whaling “clearly, absolutely and categorically.”

NPR reported on March 25 that between 2005 and 2014, Japanese whalers killed in excess of 3,500 minkes while providing almost no research results. According to ICJ court documents, Japan concluded exactly two peer-reviewed papers that referred to a total of nine individual whales.

What happened to the rest of the whales?

Would you eat whale meat?

A mere portion of the whales harvested off the Antarctic coast make it to a laboratory. The rest are butchered into steaks, sliced into whale sashimi at restaurants and otherwise packaged for sale in Japanese grocery stores and supermarkets.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, most Japanese people consider whale to “be just another fish.” The Japanese Whaling Association explained its views.

“Asking Japan to abandon this part of their culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers, and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.”

Whale meat is not an ancient Japanese tradition

Contrary to what the Japanese Whaling Association claims, whale meat is not a long-standing traditional food in Japan. The eating of large ocean mammals started after World War II, and America can be held responsible for that.

In 1946, the United States and her allies occupied the country of Japan. General Douglas MacArthur, the de facto leader of the occupation, authorized the refitting of two military tankers into whaling ships. It wasn’t long before school lunches in Japan featured the cheap and plentiful meat.

Today, whale meat may be considered a nostalgia food by the post-WWII generation. To younger Japanese, whale is more of a curiosity than a delicacy, according to Wired magazine.

Reuters notes that most Japanese people no longer eat whale. CBC News says there is declining domestic demand for whale meat in Japan.

[Photo by Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Images]