We had a strange visitor to Japan yesterday, the Alma, a refrigerated cargo vessel which has sailed all the way from Iceland carrying 2,000 tons of fin whale meat, valued at over 13 million US dollars. It sailed around the tip of Africa, cut out a planned refueling stop in Durban after over 20,000 South Africans asked their government to refuse to allow whale meat to enter the country, and then quickly refueled in Mauritius without entering port.

Its arrival here has almost doubled the stockpile of unsold whale meat sitting in freezers around Japan.

Iceland hunts these whales only for export to Japan. No one in Iceland eats them. But fewer and fewer people in Japan eat whale either. A poll by the respected Asahi newspaper last month found that just 4 percent of respondents occasionally eat whale meat, while 10 percent said they eat whale meat on rare occasions. Forty-eight percent said they have had whale meat once in the distant past, but they have not had it recently. Thirty-seven percent, including roughly half of respondents in their 20s and 30s, said they do not eat whale meat at all.

Japan’s whalers are losing money because so few people want their product. The industry can only survive with government support and each year it needs more money.  The whalers are having to decrease their catch because it is so hard to sell. So it doesn’t make sense that Iceland wants to prolong its exports to this collapsing market. 

Quite a lot of people and media in Japan argue that we need to protect Japanese culture and tradition when they talk about whaling. Yes, I totally agree to protect culture, if it is real.

Sneaking 2,000 tons of whale meat from an endangered species to Japan from Iceland does not sound like our culture at all.

Junichi Sato is the Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan.