Tragic killing of a minke whale in Japan

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Tragic killing of a minke whale in Japan
Minke whale (stock image). Credit Eve Englefield

The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has vowed to “take a stand” against whale killing in Japan.

This follows the tragic story of a minke whale trapped in a fishing net off the coast of Taiji, a remote town best known for its annual dolphin cull, that was later drowned by fishermen. Reports say the minke whale became trapped on December 24th and was fighting for its life for 19 days. The whale was said to be exhibiting prolonged distress before it was harpooned by fishermen who then tied a rope around the whales tail fluke and forced its head beneath the water. This forced the whale to clamp its blowhole shut, resulting in suffocation. It took 20 heart breaking minutes of drowning for the whale to die, it was then later taken ashore wrapped in blue tarpauling and butchered with the meat being sold in local markets.

Animal welfare campaigners called for the release of the whale and a local fishing cooperative had said it would make an attempt, but warned that it could be impossible due to the strong tidal currents and the animals size (roughly four – five meters in length). But Ren Yabuki, director of Japanese NGO Life Investigation Agency, who filmed the whale throughout its 19-day ordeal, said he had “witnessed fishers make only one half-hearted attempt to free the animal soon after it became trapped”.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has said he will “take a stand” against the “cruel killing”, suggesting he would be raising the incident when world leaders meet for an environment summit at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow later this year. He also pointed out that “despite Japan’s promise to become carbon neutral by 2025, its action on nature and biodiversity were lagging behind. Johnson said:

“I look to Japan, a world leader on climate change and free trade, to stand with me in the fight against the killing of these beautiful mammals and take steps to help preserve our precious marine life for future generations. As the UK prepares to host the COP26 summit this year and we continue to drive forwards action to reduce global emissions, we must remember that our success in tackling climate change is inherently bound up with restoring biodiversity. Let us not imagine a world where our children and grandchildren do not know the song of the humpback whale. We must all come together to respect and protect one of mother nature's greatest treasures.”

Japan continue to become under fire from environmentalists across the world for its annual dolphin cull in Taiji and for resuming commercial whaling in 2019.

Commercial whaling resumed in the country on July 1st 2019, only one day after Japan officially withdrew from the International Whaling Committee (IWC) - having failed to persuade other members to support a return to ‘sustainable’ commercial whaling. Much of Japan claim the practice of whaling and the consumption of whale meat is part of their culture and is a tradition. However, the consumption of whale meat in Japan declined by almost 99% between 1962 and 2017, during which time less than 4000 tonnes was eaten, according to data published by the Japanese Government. This demonstrates that their resumption of commercial whaling was not to meet public demand, locally or elsewhere in the world. During their first year of commercial whaling Japan set a quota for 227 whales to be slaughtered, this included Bryde’s whales, minke whales and sei whales. According to HSI, this year Japanese whalers are permitted to catch up to 383 large whales, including 171 minkes.

It is understood that Boris Johnson is passionate about this issue, and previously has admonished the Japanese Government in private, however this is the first time he has publicly criticised Japan for its practice of whaling.

The Foreign Office has also said it will raise the issue of the minke whale killing in Taiji with its counterparts in Japan, and Lord Goldsmith, the International Marine Minister said:

“The UK is a world leader on marine protection, including protection for iconic marine wildlife such as whales – which is why we have condemned commercial whaling and urge nations around the world to join us in protecting these majestic creatures. We strongly expressed the UK's desire to see the whale freed, and the Japanese Government is in no doubt as to the strength of feeling in the UK on this issue. News of the minke whale's death is heart-breaking.”

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.