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ON Boxing Day 2018 Japan announced that it is leaving the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial, rather than so-called scientific hunts for the animals for the first time in 30 years.
At the same time it said it would no longer go to the Antarctic for its much-criticised annual killings.
Chief Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said his country would resume commercial whaling in July 2019 “in line with Japan’s basic policy of promoting sustainable use of aquatic living resources based on scientific evidence.”
He added that Japan is disappointed that the IWC — which he claims is dominated by conservationists — focuses on the protection of whale stocks even though the commission has a mandate for both whale conservation and the development of the whaling industry.
“Regrettably, we have reached a decision that it is impossible in the IWC to seek the coexistence of states with different views,” he said at a news conference.
Japan faced much criticism earlier last year when its so-called scientific research whaling fleet slaughtered 122 pregnant whales.
In 2014, the international court of justice ruled against the annual Japanese slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean, after concluding that the hunts were not, as Japanese officials had claimed, conducted for scientific research but for the commercial whale meat market.
Japan resumed whaling in the Southern Ocean in 2016 under a programme that reduced its kill by about two-thirds.
Australia and New Zealand, as well as several anti-whaling campaigning groups, have done what they can to stop the Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean and they seem to have been successful – the Japanese now say that whaling this summer will only be in Japanese waters.
However the Japanese whaling fleet will again flaunt international opinion and start hunting whales later this year.
Japan will also continue to campaign to end the international ban on commercial whaling, claiming that populations of some whale species have recovered sufficiently to allow the resumption of what Japan claims is sustainable hunting.
Japan sent no fewer than 70 delegates to last autumn’s IWC meeting in Brazil. They argued that the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling was intended to be a temporary measure, and accused the IWC of abandoning its original purpose — managing the sustainable use of global whale stocks.
The Japanese said: “Japan proposes to establish a committee dedicated to sustainable whaling (including commercial whaling and aboriginal subsistence whaling).”
The Japanese proposals would have allowed IWC’s members to decide on quotas with a simple majority rather than the current two-thirds majority from 2020 onwards. This would have made it easier for Japan to buy enough votes to end the ban on commercial whaling.
Votes in favour of whaling come from those nations still involved in the grisly business. Only Norway and Iceland still have commercial whaling fleets and they both support Japan.
In addition a number of small island communities also carry out limited aboriginal whale hunting as part of what are usually claimed to be ancient cultural traditions.
Japan, however, has often bought additional votes supporting whaling from countries by offering advantageous trading terms and other close relationships.
Does Japan need to eat whale meat? No. In fact very little whale meat is actually consumed by Japanese people today.
Much is made into expensive edible dog treats for the small lap-dogs that are so fashionable among affluent Japanese.
When it comes to human consumption a recent poll commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by the independent Nippon Research Centre found that 95 per cent of Japanese people very rarely or never eat whale meat.
Given how Japan has leant over backwards to justify its whaling, and how much international criticism its getting, you might conclude whale meat is a hugely important part of the Japanese diet.
In fact the amount of uneaten frozen whale meat stockpiled in Japan doubled to 4,600 tons in the 10 years between 2002 and 2012, the last dates for which figures have been published.
It isn’t as if there is a long Japanese tradition of eating whale meat going back centuries. In fact the widespread eating of whale was only introduced directly after World War II by the US General Douglas MacArthur, who effectively ruled Japan during the post-war allied occupation.
World War II shattered Japan’s economy, food was scarce and meat especially so. MacArthur and his occupying administrators decided Japan could and should get much of their protein from sea mammal meat.
In 1946, MacArthur converted two US military tankers to become giant industrial whaling factory ships. A generation of Japanese children grew up eating whale meat as part of their school dinners.
Today for most Japanese, whale meat is little more than a novel culinary curiosity. For those few Japanese old enough to remember eating whale in immediate post-war school dinners it provides an occasional nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Japan’s former top international whaling negotiator Komatsu Masayuki for instance, told the world’s press he had never tried whale meat before he took on the whaling propagandist’s job.
This was the top man putting Japan’s argument for continuing to kill and eat whales saying he had never even tasted whale meat.
Why is it then that Japan is prepared to make itself such a pariah in world opinion? One popular view, and it is certainly the one I subscribe to, is that it is Japanese pride that will not accept other countries defining just what the Japanese nation can and cannot do.
Pride and humiliation are two sides of the way that Japanese people see their position in society and their nation’s place in the world.
If the world in general thinks it can tell the Japanese to stop killing whales, then that might be all the argument the Japanese need to keep up the bloody slaughter.
Some better whale news
Back in last September I wrote about a beluga whale that was spotted in the River Thames.
According to experts the 11-foot (3.5m) whale is still alive and well, and has been spotted regularly almost every week off the Kent coast in the Thames estuary.
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