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Can Tokyo 2020 be the ‘greenest games ever’ whilst Japan continues to kill whales?

Can Tokyo 2020 be the ‘greenest games ever’ whilst Japan continues to kill whales?
Bryde's whale. Credit: Ross Wheeler

Following their exit from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2019, Japan continues whaling within its own coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. 

After 33 years Japan made the decision to leave the IWC, having failed to persuade other members to support a return to commercial whaling and resumed the brutal practice on July 1st 2019, one day after officially withdrawing. 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 remain depleted or endangered and are in dire need of protection. 

During their first season returning to this brutal practice, in 2019 the Japanese targeted the Bryde’s whale and 187 were slaughtered. 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 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. During their commercial whaling season in 2019, Japan also killed 120 minke whales and 24 sei whales

In 2020 Japan set a quote to kill 383 whales, they killed their full quote of 187 Bryde’s whales and 25 sei whales. 95 minke whales were also taken as part of their Small-Type Coastal Whaling, which is conducted on this species and other small whales in Japanese waters. 

In 2021 commercial whaling continues in Japan despite a falling demand for the meat. It is thought the consumption of whale meat is now around 5,000 tons a year compared to 230,000 tons a year in the 1960s. The whaling quota set by Japan’s Fisheries Agency remains the same for this year; 383 whales. This is broken down into 171 minke whales, 187 Bryde’s whales and 25 sei whales.

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 these incredible animals – we have a global responsibility that must not be threatened by one single country acting selfishly and alone.

ORCA have signed up to the Humane Society International campaign ahead of the Tokyo summer games and have written to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, urging the Japanese Government to stop whaling and demonstrate a commitment to cetacean and planetary protection.

Organisers of the Tokyo games have said these will be the ‘greenest-ever Olympics’ and even the slogan “Be better, together — For the planet and the people” promotes this. However, despite the event boasting plastic waste podiums, recycled metal medals, cardboard beds and fully recyclable mattresses, Japan continues to practice cruel and unsustainable commercial whaling.  Read the letter here.