Japan's whaling program in disarray

Closures, resignations and canceled celebrations

Feature story - November 17, 2008
As the whaling fleet prepares to depart Japan, evidence is mounting of an industry in crisis, as new revelations of financial and image problems add to the woes of the scandal-plagued industry.

A Greenpeace inflatable boat in action against the refueling of the whaling fleet by the resupply and refrigeration vessel Oriental Bluebird.

The Institute for Cetacean Research, which conducts Japan's whaling program, and Kyodo Senpaku, which operates the whaling fleet, this week announced the closure of the whaling industry's flagship 'Yushin' whale meat shop and restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo due to ongoing financial problems. 

The shop, an iconic symbol of whaling in Japan, will close its doors in 2010.  That's the same year that the Jarpa II research program -- under which whales are killed in the guise of "scientific research" will be reviewed. 

Unable to find all-Japanese crew for "traditional" hunt?

In addition, informants inside the whaling industry tell us that for the first time the taxpayer-funded whaling fleet will not be 100 percent Japanese-crewed, due to the resignation of many crew members following the recent whale meat embezzlement scandal exposed by Greenpeace in May 2008.  Our undercover investigation found that valuable 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.  One crewmember had boasted that he had built a house on the proceeds from his personal whale meat sales.

Yushin whale meat shop, Asakusa, Tokyo, to be closed in 2010 ©Dave Walsh

Given the air of scandal, it's not surprising that the whalers may also be canceling their traditional departure party.  We received reports of the potential cancellation of the traditional high-profile ceremony in the whaling fleet's home port of Shimonoseki, which  marks the departure of the whalers for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The fleet is expected to depart later this week, from another port, where it will be seen off only by families of crew members and officials from the whaling operation.

We busted their refrigerator

This series of embarrassments follow last month's deflagging of the whaling fleet's refueling and cargo ship, Oriental Bluebird, after being ruled in violation of a number of domestic and international regulations as a result of work Greenpeace and local environmental groups took to inform Panamanian authorities of irregularities in the ship's operation.  The Oriental Bluebird had a Panamanian flag.

"As any commercial operator knows,  when your business is universally condemned, when you can't hold onto your staff and when almost no one will buy your products  - its time to shut it down", said Sara Holden, our International Whales Campaign coordinator.

"Although whaling officials claim the decline in business is due to a lack of supply, the Institute for Cetacean Research's own figures flatly contradict this; the stockpile of whale meat is actually increasing, which shows  that there is no market for whale meat in Japan." According to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, there were roughly 3086 tons of whale meat in storage at the beginning of 2008, which has increased to 4629 tons by September 2008.

Orwellian: Expose a crime, get arrested

Greenpeace's campaign to end whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary has increasingly focused on the authorities in Japan, where 71 percent of the public do not support Japan's whaling program. As a result of the Greenpeace investigation into embezzlement of whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru, Japanese authorities mounted a politically motivated prosecution of two Greenpeace activists.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the Tokyo Two, have been denied their liberty for 145 days, since exposing the corruption. They will be put on trial early next year, and face up to 10 years in jail for intercepting whale meat stolen by crew from the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru.

Amnesty International has denounced the arrest as being politically motivated, and in a periodic evaluation completed last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee severely reprimanded the Japanese government for the "unreasonable restrictions placed on freedom of expression" in Japan. It also condemned the abuse of trespass laws by Japanese police to harass activists who are critical of government policy.

"The extreme reaction by the authorities shows Greenpeace's work in Japan has put the whaling establishment under pressure" said Jun Hoshikawa, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan. "The whale meat market has clearly collapsed and is unprofitable, and the stigma of scandal and corruption has made it an unattractive and less lucrative industry to work for. The whaling industry's days are numbered, and it's time for the Japanese taxpayer to demand the government stops subsidizing this bankrupt program."

Take action

If Japan is going to start rounding up political prisoners for the crime of defending whales, they're going to have to arrest a whole heaping lot of us. Sign the petition to stand in solidarity with Junichi and Toru.

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