Whale Science in-action

Feature story - November 8, 2005
It’s that time of the year again, the six ships of the whaling fleet are leaving Japan and heading back to the culling ground, the “Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” to carry out “scientific testing” on 1000 whales. The “scientific test” involves harpooning the whale, measuring and weighing the carcass, slicing and dicing, and finally delivering it to markets, boxed and frozen.

SOUTHERN JAPAN The whaling ship Nisshin-maru departs from Aruka port, Shimonoseki, Southern Japan together with a fleet of four catcher ships bound for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with the intention of killing 1,000 whales. Greenpeace called upon the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) and the companies behind the whaling to immediately recall the fleet and cancel the cull.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986. The Southern Ocean was declared a Whale Sanctuary in 1994. Yet every year  the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) sends the fleet of whalers back to the Southern Ocean via a loophole in international law. The IWC has said it does not need the data produced by the 'research' and strongly urges Japan to call it off. The scale of the hunt leads only to one conclusion, that this is commercial whaling.

"Sanctuary means refuge or safe haven, yet this year nearly 1,000 whales will receive neither from the whaler's harpoon," warned John Frizell of Greenpeace International. "The Sanctuary is there to help whales recover after over a century of relentless persecution sent populations plummeting. Japan should join all other countries in respecting the Sanctuary."

Earlier this year, the FAJ announced at the annual meeting of the IWC its intention to more than double its "scientific" cull to 935 minke whales and to add 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales over the next two years. Both humpback and fin whales are listed as endangered species.

The Fisheries Agency of Japan claims, "according to Japanese cultural values… whales are viewed as a food source." However, an opinion poll commissioned in 2002 by the influential Japanese Asahi newspaper found that only four percent of the Japanese population regularly eat whale meat nine percent rarely eat it; 53 percent haven't eaten it since childhood and 33 percent have never eaten it.

"In reality few Japanese people view whale meat as a vital food source and even fewer actually eat it. It is simply not true that whaling is important to the Japanese public and the whaling fleet should not leave for the Antarctic whale sanctuary," said Mizuki Takana of Greenpeace Japan.

The FAJ also claims that whales are contributing to the collapse of fish stocks. "Ninety nine per cent of the catch will be Southern Ocean minke whales which eat krill and not fish. Only the newly added endangered Fin and Humpback whales eat fish," said John Frizell, Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace. "Are we really saying that we cannot spare a few fish for endangered whales?