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With decades of whale research under his belt, Seiji Ohsumi, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, was around when Japan ceased commercial whaling and is now at the forefront of the nation’s push to resume the program.

To the dismay of many environmental groups and some governments, Japan has decided to increase by its annual catch of North Pacific minke to 150 by taking 50 along the Japanese coast, roughly between Miyagi Prefecture and Hokkaido, while maintaining its catch of 440 minke from the South Pacific.

“Our major goal is to determine exactly what minke whales along the coast are eating,” Ohsumi said.

The institute, established by the government in 1987, estimates that whales eat between 280 million to 500 million tons of fish a year, out-eating the roughly 90 million tons netted annually by humans.

“There is strong dissatisfaction among fishermen,” Ohsumi said. “Whales devour the fish and get in their way. They are requesting that the whales be culled.

“To consider whether this is necessary, we need hard scientific data, such as these survey results.”

Ohsumi shrugs off concerns about exploiting stocks of minke whales, saying the population in the North Pacific is estimated at 25,000, and growing at a rate of around 1,000 head a year. “There is no way this could have a negative effect on (minke whales) as a resource,” Ohsumi said. In fact, he said, whales should be culled so as not to waste them.

“With resources like steel, you can leave them and use them in the future,” Ohsumi said. “But in the case of animal resources, if you leave them be, then they go to waste.”

Ohsumi likens whales to interest earned on savings. “Wildlife resources have the ability to reproduce,” he continued. “We can use that ability like money in the bank and live off of the interest.”

He also brushed off concerns that whale meat is dangerously polluted. Meat from sperm whales, caught amid a barrage of international criticism last year, did not make it to store shelves due to high mercury levels. However, if the meat is processed in a way that removes the fat, Ohsumi said, it could meet government standards.

In 1962, during Japan’s whaling heyday, consumers wolfed down 220,000 tons of whale meat. Today, Japanese eat 4,500 tons. Just over 50 percent of that comes from research whaling, while the rest comes from coastal catches of whales other than the 13 kinds of large whales overseen by the International Whaling Commission, he said.

Ohsumi is confident that if the ban on whaling is lifted, whale meat will regain some of its former popularity.

“There will be no resolutions calling for (Japan to) restrain or rethink its whaling program” if prowhaling members secure a majority in Shimonoseki, he said. “On the contrary, there may be resolutions pushing for whaling.”

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