Japanese Whaling

Ending Japan's Southern Ocean Whaling

The Fisheries Agency of Japan's whaling fleet sails thousands of miles every year to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to hunt for a self-determined, constantly increasing quota of hundreds of whales.

Claimed to be 'scientific research', in reality it is a poorly-disguised commercial operation. Now Japanese taxpayers are growing angry, and the country's media have levelled criticism on the waste of public funds on subsidising unprofitable, unsustainable and unwanted whale hunt.

This could be the year that whaling finally ends in the Southern Ocean. The whaling controversy is damaging Japan's image both at home and abroad.

Outcry and scandal

In December 2007, a 31-one country coalition delivered a demarche (diplomatic protest) to Japan, condemning the whale hunt.  Japan's Prime Ministers rarely speak on whaling issues, but by January 2008, Mr. Fukuda had to defend Japan's position in the national parliament, the Diet.

Then, in May 2008, Greenpeace uncovered a huge scandal; prime cuts of whale meat were being smuggled ashore by the crew of the Japanese whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru, for illegal trade and personal gain, at the Japanese taxpayer's expense. The story drew massive media coverage in Japan, and the ire of many Japanese people, incensed at the corruption at the heart of the whaling industry. Our work resulted in an investigation of the whaling industry by Tokyo's public prosecutor, and a massive blow to the credibility of Japan's whaling programme.

A month a later, however Japanese police arrested two Greenpeace activists who had exposed the smuggling, while the public prosecutor suddenly dropped the investigation into the whale meat smuggling. This prompted protests outside Japanese embassies worldwide, and 250,000 people sent emails to the Japanese government demanding for the activists be released. They were held for 23 before being charged, but were freed on bail in mid-July 2008. You can read more about the Tokyo Two here.

Meanwhile, there have been moves by key countries within the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resolve the deadlock between those interested in conserving whales, and those who want to hunt them. The June 2006 IWC meeting in Santiago, Chile, took place with less controversy than normal, as the both sides began formulating a new future for the organisation.

Taxpayers' money

The whaling programme in the Southern Ocean costs the Japanese taxpayer 1.2 billion yen every year -- that's about 10 million Euros, or 12 million US dollars -- just in direct subsidies.  The Japanese government spends additional funds "recruiting" countries into the International Whaling Commission, on marketing and promotion campaigns for whale meat, and other indirect subsidies that have raised eyebrows in the Japanese business press.

And, as we discovered when we interviewed people on the streets of Tokyo, very few Japanese citizens even know that it's their taxes that pay for whaling. When asked, most would rather their hard-earned money was spent on more senisble things, like health care, and welfare.

Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

While it seems absurd that Japan would send a whaling fleet to the ends of the Earth to catch whales, the motives of the officials behind the hunt are crystal clear. With three-quarters of the world's remaining whale populations found in the southern hemisphere, the whaling industry would need access to them to return to full scale commercial whaling.  This is why Greenpeace campaigned strongly for the creation of a Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary - and why we're still pressing for it to become a real sanctuary by getting Japan to end its annual commercial whaling hunt there. Protecting the Southern Ocean is the key to stopping commercial whaling around the world.

When the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was announced in 1994, it was countered by an increase of 100 whales taken by Japan's whaling fleet. At the June 2005 International Whaling Commission meeting, the Japanese government controversially announced plans to add endangered Antarctic fin and threatened humpback whales to its annual shopping list, and doubled its quota for minke whales.

However, in the face of public outcry and diplomatic pressure from around the world - from the United States and Australia in particular - in December 2007, Japan announced a temporary back-down on its plans to kill 50 humpbacks in the 2007-2008 season.

Under pressure

Since then, the Japanese government has shown signs of discomfort and internal bickering. Prior to December 2007, the government was represented on the whaling issue by Fisheries Agency officials, and occasionally the fisheries minister. Following the humpback debacle, responsibility began to move to the foreign ministry's officials, before Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura spoke on the issue. By January 2008, Prime Minister Fukuda was fielding questions in parliament on the issue.

In April 2008, the factory ship Nisshin Maru arrived home having killed 551 whales. While this was much less than planned, it was 100 more than three years ago. The whalers blamed environmental groups for their low catch. Embattled at home by politics and the recent whale meat scandal, and at sea by protests, the whalers are clearly in an unhappy situation. This pressure must continue if Japan is to fully remove its whaling fleet from the Southern Ocean.

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