POLL: Should Japan stop whaling?

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Hunting whales is irrelevant to feeding ’s population, draws global condemnation and is certainly not economic. So why does still do it?

The answer from the Japanese government is that is an ancient part of Japanese culture, that fishermen have caught whales for centuries, and that Japan will never allow foreigners to tell its people what they can and cannot eat.

One Japanese official once said to me: “Japanese people never eat rabbits, but we don’t tell British people that they shouldn’t”. I pointed out that rabbits are not exactly an .

Wada is one of five ports allowed to whale under Japan’s coastal whaling program – Image copyright Getty Images
There is a long history to anti-whaling protests – Image copyright AFP

Still, there is some merit to the government’s argument.

A number of coastal communities in Japan have indeed hunted whales for centuries, and continue to do so. in Wakayama prefecture is well known, many would say infamous, for its annual dolphin hunts. There are other places, in Chiba Prefecture and in Ishinomaki in northern Japan, that also do coastal whaling.

Food festivals have been organised to get the public to eat more whale – even in curry – Image copyright Getty Images

So, yes, coastal whaling is part of Japanese culture, like Norway and Iceland and the Inuit of northern Canada. But only Japan continues to sail a fleet of ships half way across the globe to hunt whales in the Antarctic and maintains a large factory ship that can process hundreds of whales at sea.

Nothing about these Antarctic whaling expeditions is historic. Japan’s first whaling voyage to the Antarctic took place in the mid-1930s but the really huge hunts didn’t get going until after World War Two.

Japan lay in ruins, its population starving. With the encouragement of General Douglas MacArthur, Japan converted two huge US Navy tankers into factory ships and set sail for the Southern Ocean.

Japan still runs an approved coastal whaling programme – Image copyright AFP

From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s whale meat was the single biggest source of meat in Japan. At its peak in 1964 Japan killed more than 24,000 whales in one year, most of them enormous fin whales and sperm whales.

Today Japan can afford to import meat from Australia and America. There is no deep-sea commercial whaling in Japan. The fleet that is now hunting in Antarctic waters is paid for by Japanese taxpayers to carry out what the Japanese government describes as “scientific research”.

Japan’s other justification is that it needs to kill hundreds of whales each year to study them. But the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has systematically dismantled that argument. In 2014 it ruled that there was no scientific case for Japan’s programme of “lethal research” in the Southern Ocean, and ordered Tokyo to stop.

For a year Japan stopped. But last year it sent its fleet to sea again insisting, to widespread disbelief, that its new, smaller, Antarctic whaling programme satisfies the ICJ’s requirements.

Coastal whaling involves much smaller ships, and catches – Image copyright AP

Junko Sakuma used to work for Greenpeace in Japan. For the last 10 years she has been researching Japan’s whaling industry.

“There is no benefit to Japan from whaling…but nobody knows how to quit,” she tells me at Tokyo’s famously chaotic Tsukiji fish market, the biggest in the world renowned for its pre-dawn tuna auctions.

Of the thousands of fish wholesalers in Tsukiji only two still deal in whale meat.

At one stand we find a few large hunks of meat, deep red and oozing blood. At the next there are two long slabs of lighter-coloured meat, an species its trading banned by CITES.

Business is bad, complains the stall owner. Last year Japan caught no whales in the Antarctic, so there is less minke whale meat available, he says.

If there is a whale meat shortage, the price should be soaring. But according to Junko it is not.

“The fact is, most Japanese people do not eat whale meat,” she says. “Consumption has been falling for years,” and adds that “even as the amount of whale meat decreases, the price doesn’t go up”.

According to Junko’s research, the average consumption of whale meat by Japanese people in 2015 was just 30g (one ounce) per person.

Once a staple, now a novelty – Image copyright Getty Images
Iceland also whales, but sends some of the meat to Japan – Image copyright Greenpeace

If eating whale is such an integral part of Japanese culture, why are so few eating it?

I turn to my old friend Etsuo Kato. Over the 20 years we have known each other he has, on occasion, tried to persuade me to eat whale meat with him. Kato-San grew up in Kita-Kyushu in western Japan, close to the big whaling port at Shimonoseki.

We are sitting in a cosy restaurant in Tokyo’s notorious red light district, Kabukicho. Above us hangs a very large, and rather ancient, mummified whale penis. On the wall are picture of whales.

The first plate to arrive is whale sashimi – it is raw. The owner points to the different delicacies; steak, heart, tongue and even raw whale skin.

My stomach turns, but I steel myself. Gingerly, I put a bit of raw whale steak into my mouth. It has a strong gamey flavour, chewy and fibrous. Next, I try the tongue. It is salty and fishy. Kato-San points to the heart. I politely decline.

“When I was a child I ate this every day,” he says. “Meat meant whale meat. I didn’t know what beef was, or pork. Steak was whale steak, bacon meant whale bacon.”

But if Japan stopped whale hunting you would be sad?

He looks at me smiling and gently shaking his head.

“I don’t need whale hunting” he says. “Once you have eaten beef there is no need to eat whale meat.”

The other customers in the restaurant are all middle-aged salary men. Eating a bit of whale meat is nostalgic, remembering school meals 50 years ago.

Japan’s only whaling factory ship is ageing and some analysts suggest the country may be reluctant to fund a replacement – Image copyright Greenpeace
Confrontations on the high seas are used by both sides to drum up support – Image copyright AFP

So I come back again to my original question: why does Japan still do it?

Recently I was at a private briefing with a high-ranking member of the Japanese government. Japan had just announced it was going to resuming whaling. I outlined to him why I thought it made no sense, and asked him to respond. His answer was astonishingly frank.

“I agree with you,” he said. “Antarctic whaling is not part of Japanese culture. It is terrible for our international image and there is no commercial demand for the meat. I think in another 10 years there will be no deep sea whaling in Japan.”

“So why not stop now?” asked another journalist.

“There are some important political reasons why it is difficult to stop now.” he said. He would say no more.

But Junko Sakuma thinks the answer lies in the fact that Japan’s whaling is government-run, a large bureaucracy with research budgets, annual plans, promotions and pensions.

“If the number of staff in a bureaucrat’s office decreases while they are in charge, they feel tremendous shame,” she says.

“Which means most of the bureaucrats will fight to keep the whaling section in their ministry at all costs. And that is true with the politicians as well. If the issue is closely related to their constituency, they will promise to bring back commercial whaling. It is a way of keeping their seats.”

It may seem incredibly banal. But Japan’s determination to continue whaling may come down to a handful of MPs from whaling constituencies and a few hundred bureaucrats who don’t want to see their budgets cut.

This article was first published by BBC News on 08 Feb 2016.

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its dumb that they dont know the word EXTINCTION

Michael Downs
Michael Downs

BOYCOTT Japan until this stops

Beatrice Lavagnino

Japan, stop killing our beautiful animals. Is enough of killing!!!

Sandra Pfeiler
Sandra Pfeiler


Jim Wheat

Hey you Japanese whaling buttholes… STOP this bullshit !!!! Quit killing everything and screwing up the world… what the hell is wrong with you ???

Catherine Alexander

Absolutely vile. Shame on all of these so called humans. They have no heart, no sense of their place in the world. Just greedy and empty.

Sue Lesmond

Hunt the hunters.The only good hunter is a dead one!

Delbert Smith
Delbert Smith

Bring it Sue. Remember this most hunters are masters at camouflage, expert marksman, with both rifles and silent archery equipment. Chose your weapon. I will choose mine.

M Leybra
M Leybra

Today, ‘most’ animal killers are ‘sport’ hunters w/ an array of high-tech accoutrements out to prove themselves among buddy comrades & not to be confused w/ hunters of times past in hunter/ gatherer societies. Which also has nothing to do w/ Japan’s whale & dolphin slaughters requiring no special skills other than butchering their victims.

Lora Stock

They need a few more tsunami's – bigger and more effective

Royden Johnson

It's time to stop the killing and start understanding the damage that we are causing!

Yasue Watanabe

もうクジラ漁はいらないと思います。記事の内容はほぼ合っています。ただなぜほとんどの日本人がクジラを食べないかというと、スーパーでも滅多に見かけることも無く、まれに売られていてもとても高価だからです。戦後の食糧難を乗り切った今、そして生物に関する知識が豊かになった今、クジラ漁がたとえ歴史的な食文化であっても止めるべきだと思います。伝統的なクジラ漁を継承してきた漁師にはそれぞれプライドがあります。彼らの先祖なくしては戦後の食糧難はきっと乗り切れなかったのです。そのプライドを理解しなければ漁を止めさせる事は出来ないでしょう。反対運動で抗議する以前に彼らの思いを聞きに行き理解しあおうとした方はいますか? 今この世の中で生き物を救えるのは人間だけです。クジラを守りましょう!

Gemie Tortue


Miala Wagen

Kill faster eat more more Money , Capitalism is cannibalism

Dook Vlugt

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M18HxXve3CM
Futher arguments are not necessary !

Rosa Borisova

WHEALES, SEALS, DUCKS, HORSES, CATS, DOGS, CHICKENS,PIGS AND ALL OTHER SPEICES DESERVE TO BE RESPECTED, PROTECTED AND FREE. When people stop to eat, use and wear animal products the relentles bloody massacres WILL STOP too. Consequently, stop pollution, deforestation, wild life extinction, hunger and diseases. Animals are NOT our food. To know more please watch on YouTube: Best speech ever, Forks over knifes, Meet your meat, Cowspiracy, Earthlings or/and go to meat-abilition.org, adaptt.com. please do. Thanks

Jacques Tremblay

All their reasons to continue whale hunting is just a big bullshit. Of course, there is no culture to protect in hunting with explosives harpoons and there is no culture to protect in hunting whales in Antartica. It's hard to understand how a people who did so amazing technology devices is so stupid in managing such basic questions of conservation.

Angel Winck

hunt the killers…..till the end..

Sandra Domizio

Once a month, every month, I take a day off work, along with hundreds of others, and march to the Japanese Embassy in London to protest against the barbaric slaughter & capture of dolphins in Taiji Cove. I carry my banner saying: "Japan, Stop Murdering Dolphins". We spend 6 hours shouting and chanting outside the Embassy. It is starting to have an effect as the Japanese Ambassador has complained to the Prime Minister about us. There is nothing traditional about it. It is PURE GREED as each live dolphin which is sold to an abusement park nets the fishermen about… Read more »

Tessa Carine Lupo

Interdiction totale de la Chasse a la Baleine , en voie d'extinction! cessez de les tuer les massacrer cruellement pour vos estomac ! Go Vegan! for the Heart ! for your good healt , for the Mamifer like same on Us , God Creatures not yours . *Namasté Om *

Karen Hollyoak Stewart

It's a resounding "Hell yes!"from me

Dawn Spivey

I think whaling should most definitely be outlawed.

Marion Billington

YES! STOP hunting whales!!!

Cristina Fernandez


Keith Gilles

Whaling is an atrocity and should absolutely be stopped. However, the Japanesse politician who said British people eat rabbits and we wouldn't dream of telling them to stop" does touch on the hipocrisy of the outrage at Japan killing whales while we here in Britain (amongst many other countries) subject cows, pigs, lambs, sheep, calfs, chickens, rabbits, duck, geese….. the list goes on, to vile and despicable cruetly and exploitation in the meat, dairy, egg and skin industries. The scale of this obscene cruelty dwarfs anything Japan are doing to whales. I assume the 99% in this poll who want… Read more »

Deborah Williams

this should be done to them

Sandra Quinn

yes F cking yes

Jože Vrbančič

It is tradition, that criminals are public beheaded, hanged, whipped? NO. It was common in the past centuryes, and that time was cruely as it is now. The same it is with whaling. Japan don't need whale meat, ad we all know that. But reason mentioned on bottom of this paper – that for those sitting in positions is shame to leave position while still in charge – this I can believe. And it is low, low, low level of humanity in those puppets. Dogs are more human than this, since dogs don't push others living beings into death just… Read more »

Heather McVeigh

this horrible pactice along with many others like it ,all come down to money murder for profit so sad

Ginny Stalley


Cassy Lavigne

Humans give themselves self-entitlement, which we do NOT deserve.

Onalayah Smith

THis is not an easy yes or no question. Wile I abhor the slaughter of any sentient being balance of all side needs to be reviewed. Images are emotionally provoking and sometimes heart wrentching but without proper evaluation what are we?

Linda French

To slaughter whales and continue to do so when even government would agree to stopping it – so a few can hold their jobs! are you friggin kidding me. Give them another job to do do not ride this barbaric practice on the backs of the Whale! Japan is considered by a lot of us know as a barbaric country, that want to be modern. They have the smarts to be everything but allows the practice of slaughter whales and dolphins because they do not want to admit defeat. They did this once before – they had to admit defeat… Read more »

Jill Parr

Soulless monsters ! Yet another Eastern country whose inhabitants have not evolved morally since the 12 century ! Utterly uncivilised , barbaric and brutal towards animals and sea mammals like their backward neighbouring nations !!!!! Absolute savages !!!!!

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

whaling is an abomination 🙁

Anne Grice

Tierra Chapman At least the rest of the despicable nations who commit their own sickening atrocities on large scale to innocent aniamls domestic and wild never ever regard themselves as "honourable" as they know exactly what they are and they don't expect anyone to consider them as "honourable in any form!

Marilyn-Brian Ashman


Tierra Chapman

Japan needs a conscience regarding whales and dolphins, China needs a conscience regarding dogs and cats, Canada needs a conscience regarding Harp Seals, and the USA needs a conscience regarding all the millions of sentinent beings who we slaughter in the name of our own customary, dietary barbarism – we are pawns to the animal ag industry who has spent a huge fortune to have us believe that we need their unsustainable products – but why should we humans, no matter our nationality, be a part of any animal's misery when we simply do.NOT.need. animal byproducts to survive. Quite the… Read more »

Tierra Chapman

YES! Ceasing this atrocity is long overdue, so, stop murdering these highly sentient beings in the name of custom and the supposed 'science' behind this barbarism! No human 'needs' meat of any kind in order to survive as it is not sustainable nor is it necessary to meet one's protein needs – and that is a scientific fact. Our gluttonous and backward species needs to join the 21st century and stop cannibalizing our one shared Earth (including the oceans!) which is home to non-humans as well as our own kind.

Tom Howick


Peggy Wandersee

The practice of slaughtering anything is barbaric, period. There is no reason, it's not necessary. We don't eat it, Japan doesn't need it, and from the article it sounds like the people there don't either. Humans simply cannot continue to live from others misery and pain. I'm so tired of the attitude of its there, we can kill it and make money so let's do it. It's greedy and no better than a murderer convicted and sitting in jail. Shame on them! And rock on Seashepard!!!

Anne Grice

Darren Jessup And they have the nerve to talk about "honour"! We cannot let them send whales to extinction. They have no honour, no respect for life!

Darren Jessup

These people if you would even class them as being people have no conscience or decency, all I can say is that I hope they'll be satisfied when all our whales are extinct !

Anne Grice

These are simple pathetic barbaric killers who are addicted to killing whales! There is no reason to kill whales and this nation need to examine their conscience and show some self respct and dececny and end this abhorence!

Gillian Miller

On this website you are speaking to the converted. But scientifically there is no reason to hunt, we already know everything about the physiology of the whales that Japan hunts unless they are looking to compare the taste of each one! We can now only learn from following whales and that cannot be done if they are dead! What Japan is deliberately ignoring is that they have many years worth of both whale and dolphin meat in freezers that is not being eaten. Probably just as well as the pollution in the ocan includes mercury which is found in this… Read more »