After 33 years, Japan have once again commenced commercial whaling, after leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on the 30th June this year.
Some people claim that the practice is traditional, but the overwhelming consensus in most countries is that the slaughter of whales has no place in the modern world.
In 1982 an international moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed by the IWC and put in place one of the world’s most meaningful conservation and welfare measures, which in the past has saved several species of whale from extinction. The ban also allowed several whale species to recover following decades of human driven decline, with some populations of humpback whale thriving since commercial whaling ended. However, several populations still remain depleted or endangered and are in dire need of protection.
Sadly, Japan resumed commercial whaling on July 1st 2019, one day after they officially withdrew from the IWC - having failed to persuade other members to support a return to ‘sustainable’ commercial whaling.
The main species Japan are targeting this year is the Bryde’s whale and recent reports suggested they had hit their cap for the year after killing 150 animals of this species. Bryde’s whales can grow up to 15.5 meters long and have a large slender body with three characteristic and distinctive ridges in front of their blowhole. They typically spend the whole year in tropical and sub-tropical waters, preferring waters that are over 20 degrees Celsius only making very short migrations or none at all.
They are typically seen alone, particularly when feeding, and a large percentage spend the majority of their time in surface waters, especially in coastal regions. Sometimes they can be inquisitive and may even approach boats. In 2000 the Japanese once again started hunting this species of whale for ‘scientific research’ but the animals are also threatened by noise and chemical pollution, as well as being at risk of ship strike, especially in coastal regions.
Japan has set a quota for 227 whales to be caught and slaughtered this year, not only Bryde’s whales but also 52 minke whales and 25 sei whales. During their commercial whaling season, it is likely they will catch and slaughter around 20 more minke wales and 20 more sei whales.
Although much of Japan claims the practice of whaling and consumption of whale meat is part of its culture, the volume of whale meat supplied in Japan is likely to decline this year and the annual catch quota was reduced the whaling vessels were allowed to operate was also limited as a result of ‘scientific research’ whaling coming to a halt.
Even if whalers hit their quota, domestic whale meat production is only likely to be between 1000 and 1200 tonnes – roughly 40% less than it was when Japan were conducting scientific research whaling. This reduction shows that whaling is a dying industry, and that even in whaling nations appetite for this practice is diminishing.
Whales are some of the most intelligent and awe-inspiring animals on the planet. They serve great importance to the health of our seas and contribute to important ecosystems in the marine environment.
ORCA believe whaling is a brutal practice that has no place in modern day society. We must continue to collaborate on an international level to continue protecting them – we have a global responsibility that must not be threatened by one single country acting selfishly and alone.