The Sea Shepherd antiwhaling group’s obstruction has forced Japan to suspend its so-called research whaling for the first time, but the move is likely to draw only a muted response from a nation that has grown distant from its traditional whaling culture.
Although Tokyo argues its whaling program is necessary as a scientific study, it remains uncertain whether the Japanese people enthusiastically support the government’s efforts.
“I wonder if Japanese citizens will continue to support our country’s whaling. Some young people have never eaten whale meat,” a top official at the Fisheries Agency said.
The government has tried to rev up consumer demand by selling it at discount prices to schools and hospitals, but its efforts have had limited effect. Whaling supporters worry that antiwhalers will be able to make the case that whale meat is not even wanted in Japan any more.
Sales of whale meat from the research program, which critics say is a cover for commercial whaling, have been continuously sluggish in Japan. Annual stocks of whale meat averaged around 5,000 tons in 2010, more than double the level a decade ago.
Supplies of whale meat, which peaked at 220,000 tons in 1962, plunged to a few thousand tons after Japan officially halted commercial whaling in line with an international moratorium in 1988.
While the meat was a valuable source of protein in the postwar years when food was scarce, it has long since disappeared from dining tables and school lunches.
But proponents argue whaling is deeply rooted in Japanese history and is an important part of Japanese culinary culture.
There is a section in the “Kojiki,” which dates from the early eighth century and is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, that indicates whale meat was dedicated to the legendary Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, suggesting a long relationship between Japan and whaling.
Yet, the sluggish demand for whale meat weakens the government’s bid to counter antiwhaling forces.
The aborted research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean had been slated to run until March. Its halt, however, will not affect whaling in the northwest Pacific, including Japan’s coastal waters, according to an official at the Fisheries Agency.
Aussies, Kiwis elated
SYDNEY (Kyodo) Australia and New Zealand on Friday welcomed Japan’s decision to recall its whaling fleet from Antarctic waters and cancel the whaling season due to the obstructive actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“We are pleased to see the Japanese fleet returning home,” Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Environment Minister Tony Burke said in a joint statement, without mentioning Sea Shepherd’s activities.
“This is a positive step. But the government wants to see an end to whaling, not just for a season, but for good,” they said, calling Japan’s so-called research whaling “contrary to international law.”
Australia, with New Zealand’s backing, is pursuing a case against Japanese whaling in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully also welcomed the decision.
“I hope that the early cessation of whaling for this season will allow time for constructive dialogue to resolve the international impasse on whaling issues,” he said. “A long-term solution to this issue is our ultimate objective.”