Here's an extremely interesting special report on whaling, from a Japanese business magazine. The translation is a bit patchy, but it's a fascinating glimpse -- and confirmation that, unlike the picture you get if you read the propoganda at the Institute for Cetacean Research website, there is in fact a domestic debate about whaling in Japan, and a growing tension between the Foreign Affairs department, which is constantly having to patch up relations with allies over a distraction, and the Fisheries Agency, which keeps a few bureaucrats fat and happy by shrilly pushing Japan's whaling programme down the throats of all opposition -- whether its us oceanic hippies or their own government colleagues.

If you don't make it to the end, here's the most important part:

" Some connected with whaling say that huge enterprises that are far outside the framework of realistic choices could be interested. Being one of the few issues on which Japan has made a stand against the United States and European countries, the stance of whaling hardliners could also be a vent for narrow-minded nationalism. In the end, that could easily be detrimental to national interests. Perhaps the Japanese people need to take this opportunity to reexamine the whaling issue for themselves."

Shukan Toyo Keizai January 26, 2008

Special Report

It’s gone as far as activists being tied up The Unknown Struggle in the 21st Year of Research Whaling

An incident in which anti-whaling activists were tied up has occurred in the Antarctic Ocean in clashes over research whaling. In the past few years, Japan has rapidly expanded its research whaling and has been trying to win support with numbers at international meetings. Is there a way out of this issue?

Text: Atsushi Takahashi

Tensions in the Antarctic Ocean over Japan’s research whaling have reached an unprecedented high.

The incident occurred on January 15. Two foreign-nationality members of the environmental protection group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (based in the United States) illegally boarded the Japanese catcher ship, Yushin Maru II, and were detained by the ship’s crew. The Japanese say that, prior to boarding the two had been attempting to sabotage the ship by entangling rope in its screws. In response, Sea Shepherd posted exaggerated claims on its website that the two were “being held prisoner” and had been “tied to the radar mast”.


Few people in Japan are aware of this, but in recent years the protest activities of environmental protection groups have become increasingly violent and extreme. Richly financed overseas groups even have oceangoing ships equipped with helicopters. In fact, the day before Sea Shepherd made its appearance, the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, also began pursuing the whaling mother ship Nisshin Maru, making indications that they were prepared to use force if and when the ship began whale hunting. Greenpeace -- which began its protest activities in the late 1980s -- claims to use “non-violent methods, yet engages in activities that endanger human lives, such as driving high-speed rubber boats equipped with water cannons in front of the Japanese whaling ships. Last year there was a collision between a large Greenpeace vessel and one of the larger whaling ships.

Greenpeace Japan says they have “the right to prevent whales from being hunted,” and this is the claim of both these groups that use force to achieve their aims. However, the Japanese research whaling crews call them “eco-terrorists” and have recently begun using water cannons to keep the activists at bay. The clashes and wars of words between the two camps are only escalating.

Humpback Whale Hunt Postponed at the Request of the United States

While violent clashes have begun in the Antarctic Ocean, bargaining between nation over research whaling have in fact have suddenly grown increasingly stormy since last autumn. The kindling point was the change of government in Australia. One of the main electoral platforms of the Labor Government, which won power in general elections held in November last year, is “anti-whaling”. On December 19, both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Environment Minister held press conferences to announce plans to send customs vessels to monitor for illegal activities by the Japanese research whalers.

Amidst all this, one issue that arose as a focal point was the “humpback whale” issue. Japan had formulated a plan to capture 50 of the large humpback whales annually, beginning this year. However, the humpback whales, which are often the subject of whale-watching tours, have a special place in the hearts of Australians, and consequentially the anti-whaling campaign carried out in Australia gain unprecedented momentum.

Virtually in tandem, the United States ? the current President of the IWC ? began to exert pressure. Japan regards the IWC as “dysfunctional” because it does not carry out scientific discussions, and is calling for normalization of the organization. Here the United States put forward a proposal on December 11, 2007: as President of the organization, The United States would stress to member nations the need for normalization, in exchange for which it asked that Japan postpone its humpback whale hunt. The Japanese Government discussed the issue at “very high levels” (Foreign Ministry Fishery Office), eventually deciding to accept the United States’ proposal. In a rare move for this kind of issue, it was the Chief Cabinet Secretary who announced that Japan would postpone the humpback whale hunt on December 21.

Japan made this concession in the hope that it would calm Australia’ s anti-whaling fervor. However, the Australian Government continued to openly call the Japanese research whaling “meaningless” and “savage”, refusing to slacked their anti-whaling diplomatic stance. Japan looked at this coldly, suggesting that Australia was “having trouble lowering the fist they had raised”, and this and the other whaling issues that have sprung up suddenly remain at a standstill as “matters of concern” for the Japan-Australia relationship.

Featuring in this growing international attention to Japan’s research whaling activities is that fact that the scale of the whaling has been expending year on year. To begin with, what exactly is “research whaling”? The IWC issued a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 in response to calls for environmental protection activities and curbing of resource loss through over-fishing. Japan then began “research whaling” at the end of 1987. Under the International Whaling Agreement, IWC member countries may on their own volition hunt whales for the purpose of studying resource quantities and the eco-system. The Fisheries Agency Whaling Section emphasizes the legality of Japan’s whaling activities, saying that “The approval of the IWC is not required, so other countries have no right to criticize us”. Anti-whaling criticism that “research can be conducted without killing the whales” is deeply rooted, but Japan refuses to back down, saying that “killing of whales for research is necessary” for examining age and stomach content”.

Despite the name “research whaling”, the whales are hunted in the same way as in the days of commercial whaling, with a central mother ship leading a fleeting of whaling vessels, and the expense is enormous. To meet these expenses, immediately after they have been studied the whale carcasses are cut up into approximately 5kg blocks and frozen, then sold when the ships return to Japan as “by-products”. The money acquired from these sales is used to fund the research whaling. A little over 50% of the whale meat is sold on the market, just under 40% is sold to processing companies, and the remaining 10% is sold to school catering and related companies. The use of whaling by-products is required under the International Whaling Agreement, but anti-whaling activists are strongly opposed, calling it “commercial whaling in disguise”.

Amidst all this opposition, Japan has expanded the scale of its research whaling operations. The original quota was a mere 300 minke whales from the Antarctic Ocean. The small-sized minke whales had gone virtually untouched in the age of over-hunting, and so there remained a plentiful supply and their commercial whaling was never banned. In addition to the research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, which was initially planned to continue for 18 years, Japan began research whaling in the North-West Pacific Ocean in 1994, then from 2000 included large species of whales such as Bryde's whales, sei whales, and sperm whales. Moreover, the Antarctic Ocean research whaling entered its second six-year period from the 2005/2006 season; the quota for minke whales more than doubled to a maximum of 935 and fin whales and humpback whales were also targeted.

The organization in charge of Japan’s research whaling is the Fisheries Agency affiliated Institute of Cetacean Research. The expenses budgeted for the institute for the period ending September 2007 was some 7.3 billion yen; income from the sale of whaling by-products amounted to 6.8 billion yen (the difference was made by government subsidies), and amount representing more than 5,000 tons of whale meat. This amount exceeds the number of whales hunted by Norway, which registered an objection to the IWC commercial whaling moratorium and re-began commercial whaling in 1993.

Incidentally, consumption of whale meat does not appear to be keeping pace with this increase in whaling by-products. According to Fishery Agency statistics, the commercial whaling-era whale meat inventory dropped to a low in the 1990s, but then rose rapidly from 2000. Inventory levels remain high year-round, and a quick glance indicates that amounts equal to annual consumption amounts are constantly replenishing the market.

Private Sector Companies that Avoid Whale Meat as “Untouchable”

Following Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, whale meat was valued as an inexpensive source of animal protein in a time when food was scarce, and has been a prominent meat for the Japanese dinner table. This, however, only continued up until the 1960s. With import liberalization playing a role, Japanese stomachs are now filled with domestic livestock meats. The by-products of research whaling are put onto the market with official prices calculated from whaling expenses. Supermarket prices for whale meat are no different from those of Japanese beef, and correspondingly demand is not particularly high. Several years ago Japan and Norway came to a general agreement for the import of whale meat, but this has yet to go into effect. The price of Norwegian whale meat would be about a quarter of the current Japanese price, but there are no companies interested in the Japanese market because demand is so low.

With the encouragement of the Fisheries Agency, which sensed the danger of an increased whale meat inventory, a new company, “Geishoku-labo”, was established two years ago with the aim of expanding whale meat sales over a fixed five-year period, but the company’s efforts are yet to produce results. Company President, Hiroshi Tanaka, says that “compared with domestic livestock, quality control is bad,” and that this is one impediment to the expansion of sales. Since there is a limit on distribution quantities, it is difficult for large supermarkets to sell the whale meat on a regular basis; Ito Yokado, for example, stopped selling whale meat three years ago.

Private Funding Withdrawn from Research Whaling Implementation Scheme

The Japanese Government grants approval to the Institute of Cetacean Research to conduct research whaling, and Kyodo Senpaku provides the ships requested by the Institute. The research is carried out annually between December and March in the Antarctic Ocean and between May and August in the North-West Pacific Ocean. The former private sector shareholders of Kyodo Senpaku were fishing companies with whaling experience; Kyodo Senpaku is also said to have been set up as a means of providing employment for these companies just after the moratorium was imposed.

The public’s “move away from whales” can be seen in other areas as well. The Institute of Cetacean Research conducts its research whaling with ships prepared by a private sector company called Kyodo Senpaku, to which it also contracts out the sale of the whaling by-products. However, in June of the year before last, Kyodo Senpaku lost its “private capital” status when Nissui and the four other private shareholders voluntarily transferred their shares to public-service corporations affiliated with the Institute of Cetacean Research and/or the Fisheries Agency. The former shareholders are highly reluctant to talk about this matter; one company said it was an “untouchable issue”. Kyodo Senpaku says that the move was “partly due to harassment by international environmental protection organizations”. For companies, whale-related businesses are an “operational risk”.

Despite the move away from whaling under their feet, the Japanese Government has not only expanded its research whaling but also attempted to force IWC support of these activities through numbers. West African countries which have deep ODA ties with Japan are joining the IWC one after another in support of whaling. The pro-whaling and anti-whaling sides now have almost equal numbers. At the IWC General Assembly the year before last, the “St Kitts and Nevis Declaration” proposed by the pro-whaling side was passed with one vote, with the Japanese delegation overjoyed at their first victory in the 24 years since the adoption of the commercial whaling moratorium. Directly after this, however, the United Kingdom began anti-whaling diplomacy. Five anti-whaling countries in Europe and elsewhere then joined the IWC, once again skewing the balance in favor of the anti-whaling side.

The St. Kitts and Nevis Declaration was the highlight for the pro-whaling side. “In factional numbers games, the opposition turns the tables again in the end.” (Foreign Ministry Fishery Office) Coming up against hardliners, Japan’s compromise in postponing the hunting of humpback whales can be seen as part of Japan’s efforts to lead talks towards IWC normalization. The current chair the IWC is regarded as being deeply understanding of the Japanese position, and Japan is sure to be appointed the next vice-chair of the organization. The next few years could be called a golden opportunity for Japan in terms of pro-whaling diplomacy.

However, considering the current status of the IWC, the general consensus is that achieving the three-quarters majority vote in an IWC General Assembly required for recommencement of commercial whaling to be approved would be virtually impossible. Why then, in the face of this, is Japan so persistent in promoting whaling, which is an economic non-issue? The Japanese government’s answer is that “it is the issue of the principle of trying to use organic resources sustainably. If we give an inch on the whaling issue, we will also have to back down on the tuna issue (whose numbers are already said to be decreasing). That’s another reason why the research is necessary.”

Are Antarctic Ocean Expeditions Necessary? The Essential Problem is Lack of Interest

Supporting this principle in the face of the radical ideology of a few anti-whaling activists who claim “whales are special creatures, so you must not kill even one!” is something that most Japanese people would probably agree with when consideration is given to the issue of future food supplies. However, the everyday interest of Japanese people on the whaling issue is incredibly low compared to people in other countries, and it cannot be said that checks have not become lax, either.

For example, what about the way Japan conducts whaling research? The reason Japan spends a huge amount of money continuing research in the faraway Antarctic Ocean is that this is the area where future commercial whaling is expected to be carried out. The flip side to that is that Japanese vessels are only researching areas of the Antarctic Ocean that are relatively close to Japan. In 1990, the IWC Scientific Committee estimated the minke whale population in the entire Antarctic Ocean to be 760,000; two years later, this was also agreed using the revision control method of calculating sustainable fishing areas. The number of whales that could be hunted annually, allowing sustainable use of marine resources, would be 2,000 according to these calculations. The Fisheries Agency and other government agencies cite these figures to support their claim that commercial whaling should be resumed, but would commercial whaling in such a limited area of the Antarctic Ocean, which cannot be carried out without enormous expenses, truly be profitable?

Some connected with whaling say that huge enterprises that are far outside the framework of realistic choices could be interested. Being one of the few issues on which Japan has made a stand against the United States and European countries, the stance of whaling hardliners could also be a vent for narrow-minded nationalism. In the end, that could easily be detrimental to national interests. Perhaps the Japanese people need to take this opportunity to reexamine the whaling issue for themselves.