Why Japan Keeps Whaling
Image Credit: Uniphoto Press

Why Japan Keeps Whaling


‘It’s Gojira versus the whalers,’ the headline screamed. Welcome to the latest instalment of the whale wars, where truth has long been a casualty.

As Japan’s whaling fleet set sail this week for its latest expedition to the Southern Ocean, anti-whaling militants Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had already struck a propaganda blow by naming their interceptor vessel after the feared icon of their enemy. While the Japanese movie monster better known as Godzilla has fought many battles throughout his career, it’s fair to say that his creators would never have envisaged him combating his own country’s whalers.

‘This vessel is going to play a huge part in shutting down the Japanese whaling fleet for the entire summer,’Sea Shepherd’s Jeff Hansen told reporters in Fremantle, Australia, where it was registered with the backing of the city’s mayor. The group launched from Hobart its largest ever contingent of three vessels and a helicopter against the Japanese whaling fleet, which in 2009/10 comprised a factory ship, three harpoon ships, a supply ship and two security patrol vessels.

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Meanwhile, the whalers were reportedly planning to put armed Japan Coast Guard ranks aboard their vessels to deter illegal activity. On the diplomatic front, Japan flagged its intention to set up a new pro-whaling organisation rivalling the divided International Whaling Commission (IWC), while the Australian government continued to pursue its case against Japan’s research whaling at the International Court of Justice.

It all adds up to yet another looming showdown between the warring parties, both at sea and diplomatically. Yet, rather than another ‘Gojira’ episode, will it end up being ‘Groundhog Day’ all over again this season for the main protagonists?

Ahead of the annual whale hunt, The Diplomat canvassed the views of experts both within and outside Japan on the rationale and future of the nation’s whaling industry, viewed by its supporters as a traditional cultural practice, but by its critics as ‘Japan’s diplomatic scarlet letter. ’While few could see signs of compromise, none favoured the continuation of the current stand-off.

‘The Japanese have been eating whale meat and utilising whalebones, blubber and oil for more than 9000 years,’ says Glenn Inwood, a spokesperson for Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR).

Established in 1987 and under the auspices of the Fisheries Agency, the ICR is responsible for Japan’s whale research programmes in the Antarctic and western North Pacific, which are officially conducted under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).

According to Inwood, the ICR’s whaling company Kyodo Senpaku plans to catch around 850 minke and 50 fin whales in the upcoming 2010/11 season, ‘scientifically calculated as the minimum sample size required to obtain statistically useful information.’

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