Whaling is Bad Business

Page - January 9, 2009
So just what is going on with Japan’s 'scientific' whale hunt? Why does the Japanese government insist in trying to re-ignite an unprofitable, unpopular and unsustainable commercial operation by calling it 'science'?

Activists demand illegal whale meat be refused by Japanese customs officials.

It costs around 6 billion yen, or more than US$50 million, to run the annual Southern Ocean whale hunt. Of that, 5 billion yen is in theory covered by the sales of whale meat, while government subsidies and other funding make up the other 1 billion yen or US$10 million. Without trying to offload the whale meat to the consumer, the government-commissioned 'research' program would not be able to continue - and the shipping company that runs the fleet wouldn't be able to recover the costs that it uses for building new vessels. This year, the whalers failed to pay back 1 billion yen in 'operating cash' borrowed from public funds, due to ongoing financial difficulties (Asahi Shimbun, February 2nd 2008).

Professor Toshio Kasuya, of Teikyo University of Science and Technology in Japan, gave his analysis in the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper in October 2005.

"This is nothing other than an economic activity. It leaves no room for researchers to carry out research based on their own ideas. It certainly does not conform to the scientific purpose authorised by the Convention."

The stockpiles and the scandal 

Plummeting demand for whale meat in Japan has resulted in stockpiles of several thousand tonnes of unwanted whale meat in coldstores, and the start-up of a government-sponsored marketing agency, tasked with convincing the public that whaling is both culturally and economically important to Japan.

However, the business media in Japan has been questioning the validity of the annual whale hunt. After all, to any right-thinking business professional, the whaling industry is an example of how to run a business badly, by attempting to increase the unsustainable production of a product that few people are interested in, while propped up by public money.

This was demonstrated by the recent whale meat scandal. Activists from Greenpeace Japan uncovered evidence that choice cuts of whale meat were being smuggled ashore by the crew of the Japanese whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru. After being shipped in boxes disguised as personal effects to crew member's homes, the meat is sold illegally, for massive personal profit, at the Japanese taxpayer's expense. The story drew massive media coverage in Japan, and the ire of many Japanese people, incensed at the corruption at the heart of the whaling industry.  The box of meat intercepted by the activists contained 23.5kg of meat, with a potential value of up to USD$3000. Some crew members were said to be receiving as many as 20 of these boxes.

Corporate responsibility

Greenpeace was surprised to learn that Canon, the world's number one digital camera producer, isn't willing to condemn whaling  - despite its high-profile advertising and sponsorship programmes dedicated to wildlife. We wrote to Canon, asking it to take a stand - but it refused. Since then, more than 160,000 people have written to Canon asking it to do the right thing. Canon Japan's CEO Fujio Mitarai is also the head of the Nippon Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation) - which puts him in prime position to do the right thing for whale conservation, for Japanese business, and for the Japanese people.