For many whales off the coasts of Japan, the last hour will soon have struck. While the high-tech country was presenting itself as the host of the G20 summit in Osaka this Friday and Saturday, its whalers were making final preparations for the big hunt in the far north of the country.
This Monday (1. July) when Japan’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) formally took effect, they planned to set sail from the port of Kushiro with flags flying.
Although Japan has already killed hundreds of whales every year – according to official accounts for “scientific purposes,” which is permitted despite the moratorium in place since 1986. But now, for the first time in three decades, the world’s third-largest economy is starting to hunt marine mammals commercially again. There may be still so much criticism from all over the world.
“We want to revive our culture of whale hunting,” rejoices the mayor of the old whaling town of Shimonoseki. Whaling ships are also to set sail from its harbor. From now on, they want to limit themselves to Japan’s own territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. According to government sources, minke, sei and Bryde’s whales are on the kill list. How many animals will die by the end of August has not yet been determined. So far, the responsible Ministry of Fisheries has not announced any quotas.
In the 1960s, around 200 whales were caught.000 tons annually in Japan eaten, came from the “scientific whaling” at last still approximately 5000 tons annually on the market. Although exact catch figures are not yet known, whalers estimate the supply in the course of the now imminent start of commercial hunting next year at about 2,000 tons. The comparatively small amount could be related to the fact that Japan will stop its previous “research hunt” in Antarctica.
However, in an interview with the Japanese news agency Kyodo, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Karmenu Vella, expressed concern that there could now also be increased exports of whale products to Japan from Iceland and Norway. Both countries also hunt whales, including for commercial purposes.
Norway objected to the whaling moratorium, Iceland expressed reservations. Neither are EU members, but the EU Parliament had called on the EU Commission by resolution to prevent the use of ports of EU member states for the export of whale meat products to Japan, Kyodo added.
Tokyo had complained for many years that some IWC member countries were only concerned with whale protection. But the IWC’s original mission is to conserve stocks and use animals sustainably. Japan kept pushing for reform of the body. In the end, the government ran out of patience: it announced its withdrawal from the organization.
But Japan knows that it cannot now simply do as it pleases. International laws will continue to apply to Japan. We will continue to be committed to international cooperation for the appropriate management of maritime resources, they said. Japan plans to attend the IWC’s deliberations as an observer.
Nevertheless, environmentalists are concerned. Overfishing in both Japanese coastal waters and areas on the high seas has led to the depletion of many whale species, Greenpeace said. The organization OceanCare fears that Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC will jeopardize the survival of some whale populations in the Northwest Pacific as well.
She also disputed Japan’s claim that certain whale species, such as minke whales, have recovered significantly. He said these occur in “complex population structures”. A minke whale population in the Pacific Northwest is considered critically endangered, he says. “This population will not withstand direct commercial hunting. We will therefore lose this and probably other whale populations,” criticized Nicolas Entrup, Ocean Policy Expert at the organization OceanCare.
Whaling has long become a matter of national sovereignty for Japan. Initially, however, it had been the U.S. occupation forces that had urged Japan to slaughter whales to provide protein for its starving population after losing World War II. But that was a long time ago, today the dark whale meat finds few lovers.
However, the government believes this will change quickly thanks to commercial hunting, which is now underway. People just need to get a taste for it, she says. Then more whale will be eaten.