Minke whales go to school, but they won't learn anything

Feature story - 2 August, 2002
The results of Japan’s latest whaling “research” expedition go on sale this week. To combat the dwindling appetite for whale meat among Japanese people, the government is cutting prices and giving a few hundred tonnes of whale meat for school lunches so children can “understand how good it is”.

Results of Japan's scientific whale research.

The results of the Japanese government's whale research programme is spreading throughout Japan. The resulting research will be on display in restaurants, in markets, in schools and sushi bars. People can sample the research for themselves. You could try whale sashimi, whale miso soup, salted whale blubber, fried whale or would you like some whale ginger with tartar sauce?

The more than 2000 tonnes of whale meat that has been released for sale is the result of the Japanese expedition to the Southern ocean between November and April this year. The Japanese whaling fleet caught 440 Minke whales in the Southern ocean under their "scientific" whaling program. But it is obvious from this week's sale, the results aren't very scientific.

The sale is expected to bring in about 3.8 billion Yen, or US$32 million, to fund further "research". And this is after the government has cut prices for the whale meat and blubber.

One kilogram of red whale meat will sell for US$22 and blubber will sell for US$9 a kilogram. That is 12 percent less than last year's research.

Most of the meat will go to wholesalers, which will then be sold to markets and restaurants around the country. But the government is also setting aside 270 tonnes for use in school cafeterias.

"We want children to learn what the flavour of whale is like," said Takumi Ikeshima, a spokesman from the government-sponsored Institute for Cetacean Research in Tokyo. "If they don't eat it young, they won't understand how good it is."

This is a final attempt to revive a dying industry in Japan. Whale meat was an important source of protein after the war and a staple of school lunches in Japan until commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Committee in 1986. Now whale meat and blubber are expensive delicacies that rarely appear on family dinner tables.

Since beginning its 'scientific' whaling, the Japanese government has gradually increased the extent of its operations, both by increasing its self-allocated quotas and expanding its whaling operations into new areas, including a second 'scientific' hunt in the North Pacific ocean.

The Japanese whaling fleet is currently hunting Minke, Sperm, Bryde's and endangered Sei whales in the North Pacific ocean. The results of this research will also end up on the market in Japan.

While the Japanese government struggles to convince Japanese people to start eating whale again as part of their cultural heritage, the government's appetite for whale products continues to grow.

This past week Japanese officials visited Norway to meet with the government and private sector to set up a regular export route between the two countries, despite an international ban on the trade of whale products.

Norway has a growing stockpile of whale meat and blubber in storage and it looking to off load it on Japan. Last month Norway defied the export ban shipping eight tonnes of Minke whale meat and blubber to neighbouring Iceland.

But the Norwegian exports to Japan are on hold for the moment. Testing of the Norwegian's whale blubber by the Japanese revealed that the blubber contains concentrations of PCBs higher than that permitted by the Japanese health authorities.

In the meantime, Japan and Norway are working tirelessly to lift the ban on commercial whaling and will again attempt to lift the ban on exports of whale products at the international meeting for the Conventional of Trade in Endangered Species in November.

You can help stop whaling by downloading the whales action kit.

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