Whale institute still justifying lethal research

Activists: What's left to study after three decades of costly hunts?

by and


The Institute of Cetacean Research can be found in a nondescript white brick office building in Tokyo’s port district. Down a hallway and through an unmarked door is a small lobby with a model ship, a poster showing various whale species, and a sign that reads “Keep Out.”

Japan says the research that goes on behind the locked security door is crucial for the study of whale populations, but critics slam the practice as a loophole to bypass an international ban on commercial whaling. Captured whales are studied by the institute, which refers to its work as lethal research, before the meat is sold across the nation, including at restaurants in the nearby Tsukiji market.

An AFP-Jiji reporter who visited the office recently was confronted by two men who did not identify themselves. “What are you doing here? You are not supposed to be here. You have to leave,” one said in English.

When told that the taxpayer-funded institute had not responded to interview requests, he said: “That means no. It means we’re not interested.”

Norway and Iceland are the only other nations that hunt whales in open defiance of the 1986 global moratorium, and Japan’s annual hunt has drawn criticism from both activists and foreign governments. But the institute insists “antiwhaling is not ‘world opinion.’ ”

“Rather, it is a predominantly Western phenomenon in developed countries amplified by antiwhaling fundraising NGOs and the Western media,” it says on its website, pointing to hundreds of whaling research papers. “The purpose of Japan’s research is science — science that will ensure that when commercial whaling is resumed, it will be sustainable.”

What Japan sees as research is at the heart of a bitter grudge match between militant activists intent on ending its annual whaling expeditions and an equally determined government that dismisses the campaigners as “terrorists.”

The whaling fleet left port in December aiming to catch about 1,000 whales in the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean, where they are regularly pursued by the militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd. Activists said this year’s hunt ended in March with no more than 75 whales culled.

The two sides have clashed violently in exchanges that in the past have seen stink bombs hurled at crew aboard the whaling vessels, water jets trained on the protesters and a protest boat being cut in two. The bitter fight has also reached the legal arena, with both sides launching lawsuits.

Tokyo argues that researching the mammals is “perfectly legal” under international whaling rules, and that it is selling meat by-products. Organs including ovaries and stomach contents are crucial for research, the institute says.

“Some indispensable data have to be collected by lethal means, which simply cannot be obtained by nonlethal means,” it said, adding that death “is as rapid as possible. A large proportion of the whales taken are killed instantly by an explosive harpoon.”

Critics question what could possibly remain for the institute to conclude about sustainable whale populations after carrying out its research for nearly three decades since the moratorium on international whaling was established.

“They (the institute) don’t really have an argument to justify themselves anymore,” said Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan. “If they can’t get enough data by killing thousands of whales, then that is a failure of the science.”

“It’s about pride. Japan has been claiming this is part of Japanese culture. Once you raise that issue, it’s very difficult to back down,” Sato said.

Questions remain about the economic viability of whaling, given the decades-long decline in domestic consumption of the meat. A report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare recently said the nation’s whaling operations are costing taxpayers ¥970 million a year. There was little appetite among private firms to restart commercial whaling given the prohibitive expense, Sato said.

However, fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi recently said in an interview that the hunts will continue, dismissing antiwhaling voices as “a cultural attack, a kind of prejudice against Japanese culture.”

In the narrow streets around Tsukiji market, billed as the world’s biggest fish emporium, that view was echoed by some who defended whaling as an important tradition, albeit a fading one. Others feared job losses in the whaling sector if the hunt ended and criticized activists’ in-your-face approach — even if they had little affection for whale meat itself.

“It is Japanese food culture,” said Miuka Arita, 45. “People who decide they want to eat it should be allowed to do so. Just because (activists) didn’t grow up eating it does not justify the aggressive actions they take.”

Tamie Sawai doesn’t think much of the “dangerous actions” of conservationists either. But the 83-year-old added that she had not eaten whale meat in years.

“Its bacon was quite good, but I don’t have any strong sense of nostalgia for whale meat,” she said. “I don’t miss it at all.”

Correction: In the original caption, the Baird’s beaked whale was mistakenly identified as a bottle-nose whale. 

  • 常光 渋谷

    10-meter bottlenose whale? NO its Baird’s Beaked Whale.

  • AnimuX

    Unfortunately, the media continues to casually ignore the fact that Japan has been violating international whaling regulations since before there was an ‘anti-whaling’ movement. The world’s whaling industries systematically decimated whale species, despite attempts to prevent this, and many species remain endangered today as a result of over-exploitation.

    Historically, Japan’s whalers have ignored size limits and species protections, hunted out of season, hunted in off-limits areas, exceeded quotas, and even hired foreign poachers to illegally kill whales (pirate whaling) and smuggle the meat to Japan.

    Japan annually kills endangered sei whales, endangered fin whales, vulnerable sperm whales, rare Bryde’s whales, common minke whales (many from the threatened J-stock), and Antarctic minke whales (IUCN data shows this species is also in decline). Not to mention up to 20,000 small cetaceans like dolphins including rare beaked whales and a Dall’s porpoise hunt called ‘clearly unsustainable’ by the IWC scientific committee.

    In 1982, the International Whaling Commission voted by 2/3 majority to set all commercial whaling quotas to zero. The moratorium went into force in 1986, and Japan continued to kill whales anyway — exploiting a loophole intended for science.

    In 1994, the IWC also declared the Southern Ocean to be a whale sanctuary, and Japan continued to kill whales there anyway — again claiming an exception for science.

    In 2002, in an open letter to Japan’s government published in the NY Times, a group of twenty-one scientists wrote, “We, the undersigned scientists, believe Japan’s whale research program fails to meet minimum standards for credible science.”

    In 2003, members of the IWC scientific committee, in an article published in BioScience, wrote, “Japan’s scientific whaling program is so poor that it would not survive review by any major independent funding agency,” and when it comes to misrepresenting commercial activities as science, “there has rarely been a more egregious example of this misrepresentation than Japan’s scientific whaling program.”

    National governments all over the world, large and small, from South American countries to the USA and European nations to Seychelles, Australia and more have called on Japan to stop killing whales in multiple official objections.

    In 1988, even Reagan enacted sanctions against Japan for the very same whale poaching continued today: “Given the lack of any evidence that Japan is bringing its whaling activities into conformance with the recommendations of the IWC, I am directing the Secretary of State under the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment to withhold 100 percent of the fishing privileges that would otherwise be available to Japan in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Japan has requested the opportunity to fish for 3,000 metric tons of sea snails and 5,000 metric tons of Pacific whiting. These requests will be denied. In addition, Japan will be barred from any future allocations of fishing privileges for any other species, including Pacific cod, until the Secretary of Commerce determines that the situation has been corrected.” — U.S. President Ronald Reagan

    The IWC sums it up nicely in Resolution 2007-1:

    “CONVINCED that the aims of JARPA II do not address critically important research needs;


    FURTHER CALLS UPON the Government of Japan to suspend indefinitely the lethal aspects of JARPA II conducted within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

    Australia has filed a case against Japan with the International Court of Justice, declaring that Japan is in breach of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and has failed to honor its international obligations in good faith.

    Professor Jun Morikawa, author of “Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy”, explains that the whaling is not performed for cultural or scientific reasons. In fact, it continues for the benefit of corrupt bureaucrats who ensure government tax-based subsidies for whaling only to later leave public office and take high paid jobs in the commercial whaling industry. This type of corruption is so common in Japan’s government they have a word for it: ‘amakudari’.

    Hardly anyone in Japan eats whales these days. Whale meat was a substitute source of protein during post WWII food shortages but as soon as Japanese families could afford other meats they stopped buying whale. Demand has shrunk consistently since the 1970s and in 2012 Japan’s government failed to sell 75% of its whale meat at auction. If the government did not include whale meat in compulsory school lunches then most Japanese children would never know the taste.

    What we have here is government funded whaling during an international moratorium on the trade, within the boundaries of an international whale sanctuary, while the international organization responsible for regulating whaling repeatedly calls on Japan to stop killing whales. In other words, it’s poaching.

  • http://twitter.com/isana_tori isanatori

    How many times do we have to see pictures of Baird’s beaked whales (not “bottlenose whale” as Tunemitu Shibuya corrected) being flensed in Wadaura, Minami-Boso city (Chiba prefecture), even though it’s not related to Japan government’s whale research in the Southern Ocean before the journalists decide to check their facts!? That species isn’t under the jurisdiction of International Whaling Commission, and thus hunted commercially.

    Anti-whaling isn’t world opinion. That’s true enough. It’s not because a cult groups like Sea Shepherd say otherwise that it will change.
    The authors of this piece don’t even precise that Mr. Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan has been convicted of theft and trespass after stealing a parcel 5 years ago in his anti-whaling quest. How much credibility can you think to have when quoting people who don’t hesitate to violate the law for environmental non-issues like whaling.

    By the way, the IWC adopted the moratorium with a 3/4 (not 2/3) majority, ignoring the recommendation of its scientific committee and going thus against the rule that makes it mandatory to take such decisions on scientific grounds. Japan had objected to the moratorium, but was pressured by the USA to withdraw it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/genkiguy Christopher Glen

    The enthusiastic welcome that Sea Shepherd vessels received in Australia recently – unimpeded by the police, should speak volumes for the sentiments of Australians and many around the world. If I met Watson I`d shake his hand. He`s been doing what Australia`s government should be doing. Hopefully the upcoming ICC case will resolve the issue