First Whales Caught as Japan Resumes Commercial Hunt After 30 Years

Posted July 02, 2019

Five whaling vessels left Kushiro port in Northern Japan on Monday for the first hunt.

KUSHIRO, Japan-Japanese whaling ships prepared on Sunday to set to sea, with crews gathering on decks in a northern port a day ahead of Japan's first commercial whaling hunt in more than 30 years.

Under its research whaling, which was criticized as a cover for commercial hunts because the meat was sold on the market, Japan caught as many as 1,200 whales a year.

The country has maintained for decades that the animal is not endangered and that eating whales is part of Japanese culture.

This September 4, 2017 picture shows a minke whale being lifted by a crane during the North Pacific research whaling programme at the Kushiro port.

The IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling has broadly been a success - whale populations have increased where whaling was the primary threat.

Japan's research whaling program had continually lost money and relied on government subsidies. But whale was quickly replaced by other meats.

After a ban was imposed in 1986, Japan began whaling for "scientific research" a year after.

The planned hunts, while small and far from internationally protected waters, have also sparked anger in countries where whaling is considered outdated and harmful.

With the dwindling popularity of whale meat in Japan, the commercialising is also seen as a step towards ending of commercial whaling itself. Now, Japan is set to abandon whaling in the Antarctic and with it, the necessity to label the hunting as scientifically guided.

While commercial whaling this year has been limited to 227 whales, it follows two rounds of scientific whaling earlier this year.

AMCS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare has released a legal opinion from an international law expert showing Japan's commercial whaling opens the country to legal action.

Whaling is losing support in other whaling nations including Norway and Iceland, where whalers have cut back on catches in recent years amid criticism that commercial hunts are bad for their national image and tourism. What is now Maruha Nichiro Corp., a Tokyo-based major food company, was headquartered in the city before World War II, engaging in large-scale whale hunting.

Why are some people against whaling?

Japan says it will only conduct the practice in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Whaling supporters admit that building demand will take time.

Japan's vice-minister for fisheries Masaaki Taniai said his country would be "pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC".

Some environmentalists have argued that the resumption of whaling will decrease as both its consumption and availability will be hampered.

Japan's exit from the IWC in December used to be met with criticism from environmental protection groups.

Shimonoseki had once been a boom town during the peak whaling years, but has struggled in the years since.