Japan resumes commercial whale hunting after ships leave port for the first time in 31 years

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JAPAN resumed commercial whaling today for the first time in more than three decades – in defiance of growing global criticism.

Five harpoon ships set sail from Kushiro harbour following Tokyo’s controversial decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Whaling ships depart from a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido this morning
AFP

A fleet of whaling ships depart from a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido this morning[/caption]

A fisherman on a whaling ship prepares to depart from port
AFP

A fisherman on a whaling ship prepares to depart from port for the first time in decades[/caption]

The Fisheries Agency said the catch quota through the end of this year is set at 227 whales, fewer than the 333 Japan hunted in the Antarctic in recent years.

The ships, which are set to be joined by vessels from the southern port of Shimonoseki, will spend much of the summer hunting for minke and Baird’s beaked whales.

Crew in orange life vests took positions on the decks as the blue-hulled ships sailed out of Kushiro, some with red banners fluttering from their masts.

Fishermen from Abashiri, Taiji , Ishinomaki and Minamiboso – all towns with a whaling tradition – will also take part in the commercial hunt in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Fisheries officials are hoping that the resumption of commercial whaling will spark renewed interest in whale meat among Japanese consumers.

“From today, I’d like the whalers to catch whales by observing the quota and aim for revival of the whaling industry,” said fisheries minister Takamori Yoshikawa,

Japan's bloody taste for whale

Domestic consumption of whale meat was around 200,000 tonnes a year in the 1960s, when it was an important source of protein in the post-war years.

However, whale meat consumption was down to just 6,000 tonnes in 1986- just a year before the commercial whaling moratorium imposed by the IWC.

Japan’s whalers still killed 333 minke whales during their final “research” expedition to the Antarctic, which ended earlier this year

In previous years, however, it slaughtered almost 1,000 whales a year, amid confrontations on the high seas with the conservation group Sea Shepherd.

Meat from the hunts was sold on the open market, prompting claims that they were a cover for commercial whaling.

Many Japanese people still clearly have a taste for tinned whale (see photo) despite what the rest of ther world thinks.

“If we had more whale available, we’d eat it more,” said Sachiko Sakai, a 66-year-old taxi driver in Kushiro, on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

“It’s part of Japan’s food culture,” said Sakai, adding that she ate a lot of whale as a child.

“The world opposes killing whales, but you can say the same thing about many of the animals bred on land and killed for food.”

Japan began whaling for scientific research a year after the 1986 ban on commercial whaling, aiming to gather what it called crucial population data, but it abandoned commercial whaling in 1988.

Critics said the programme was simply commercial whaling in disguise, after the meat of animals taken in scientific whaling ended up on store shelves and in restaurants.

Environmentalists said the launch was delayed until after a summit of leaders of G20 major economies that Japan hosted, but whaling proponents have denied this.

“This is a sad day for whale protection globally,” said Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International.

“The word ‘research’ may have been removed from the side of the factory ship, finally ending Japan’s charade of harpooning whales under the guise of science, but these magnificent creatures will still be slaughtered for no legitimate reason.”


 

A 2017 survey by the Japan Whaling Association showed about 64 per cent of respondents in ages ranging from teens to 50s said they have eaten whale meat but most of them said they haven’t eaten once for more than five years.

Whaling is losing support in other whaling nations including Norway and Iceland, where whalers have cut back on catches in recent years amid criticism that commercial hunts are bad for their national image and tourism.

Iceland caught only 17 whales, while Norway hunted 432 for the 2017-2018 season, way below their catch quota of 378 and 1,278 respectively, according to the IWC.

The 8,000 tonne Nisshin Maru leaves Shimonoseki port, in southwestern Japan
EPA

The 8,000 tonne Nisshin Maru leaves Shimonoseki port in southwestern Japan[/caption]

The crews have been given the green light to hunt minke whales
Alamy

The crews have been given the green light to hunt minke whales[/caption]

Hunting has started again after Tokyo withdrew from the International Whaling Commission
AFP

Hunting has started again after Tokyo withdrew from the International Whaling Commission[/caption]

Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru captures a whale after harpooning the mammal in the Southern Ocean (stock)
AP

The Yushin Maru captures a whale after harpooning the mammal in the Southern Ocean (stock)[/caption]

A whaling ship which is set to join the resumption of commercial whaling sails out at a port in Kushiro
Reuters

A harpoon ship which is set to join the resumption of commercial whaling sails out of Kushiro[/caption]

Officials of Fisheries Agency and fishery industries wave off a whaling ship
EPA

Officials from Japan’s Fisheries Agency and fishery industries wave off a whaling ship[/caption]

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