The Controversial Story of Japanese Whaling: 12th Century and Present Times

The Controversial Story of Japanese Whaling: 12th Century and Present Times

Japanese whaling has been a controversy as it attracted many negative opinions from outside of Japan. While we were busy fishing small anchovies in the ocean, Japanese fishermans set sail for a big catch, a whale. We might see Japan whale hunting as an animal cruelty and might endanger the whale population, but in the Japanese perspective, perhaps it was a part of their culture that they follow for generations, Japan whale hunting has been going since around 12th century. This article will try to brief Japanese whaling, past and present.

Why Did Japan Hunt Whales For?

Perhaps we can say that Japan hunts whale for profit, and despite of international criticism, whaling operations won’t  cease that easily. In Japan, Whaling is a small industry, with a big workload employing at around 300 people. Whaling is done in Japanese territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, said the Japanese fishing ministry Hideki Moronuki. Japan argues that hunting and eating whales are part of its culture, fishing communities in Japan have indeed hunted whales for centuries

Japanese whaling, as portrayed by a video game made in 2020, Ghost of Tsushima

Interestingly, in a video game called Ghost of Tsushima (2020) which take place in Tsushima Island, Japan in the late 13th century, there was a whale fishing camp that players can find in the map. It’s a village right next to an ocean while the villagers butcher and dry their catch of the day, showing the existence of Japanese whaling since a very long time. Back to what we’re saying, the whale fishing does exist, but whale consumption only became widespread after World War II when other food was scarce.

Speaking of seafood consumption, we suggest you to read: 4 Best Sustainable Seafood Choices In Indonesia for A Brighter Future

History of Japan Whale Hunting

Historically speaking, Japan believes that the tradition of whaling has been going on since around 12th century, hunting the giant sea creatures by hand-thrown harpoons, according to the Japan Whaling Association. From the late 1940s to the mid-1960s whale was the single biggest source of meat in Japan, not because they wanted to, but because they were desperate during the poor years following World War II. Between the above period, which is 1951, Japan joined the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

There is a word of mouth where Japan had ceased it’s last commercial whale hunt in 1986, but it seems like Japan has never really stopped whaling, it’s still operating under “research mission” alibi. From 19th century to the early 20th century, the population of whales were in the brink of extiction, thanks to the Japanese whaling. To prevent extinction, members of International Whaling Commission (IWC) agreed to stop hunting temporarily to let the whales repopulate and heal it’s population.

Which later on, the temporary policy became a quasi-permanent ban, however with some exceptions such as allowing indigenous groups to carry out whaling for sustenance, and whaling for scientific purposes. Starting from 1987, Japan has killed between 200 and 1,200 whales each year for presumed “research purposes”. Experts find out however, that it was just a cover so Japan could hunt whales for food, the meat from the whales killed for research usually did end up for sale.

Japanese whale hunters, successfully catching a whale for profits (Image taken from Deutsche Welle, How does Japan get away with 'horrific' whale hunting?)

United Nations once responded to the Japanese whaling activities in 2014, by using the  International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Tokyo to stop hunting in Antarctic waters, saying that the project did not meet conventional scientific standards. So in 2014 until 2015, Japan ceased it’s whaling operation, only to continue later on under a new programme that it said had genuine scientific value, which it was condemned by The European Union and 12 other nations. In September 2018, Japan request IWC to return to commercial whaling, and IWC refused.

The Current Condition of Japanese Whaling

Apparently, Japan has withdrawn from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in July 2019, which banned whale hunting of any method. They straight up sent a Japanese whaling fleet with permits to catch 227 whales after leaving the commission. If you’re asking whether Japan’s whaling operations is legal or not, it is, as long as they’re doing it within its 12 mile coastal waters, especially after Japan left the IWC. There is a specific species of whales that’s allowed to be hunted though, there are Minke, Bryde’s and Sei Whales.

Japan was so open with their whaling, Japan Whaling Association has an official Web Site which you can visit by clicking here.

South Park made fun of Japanese Whale Hunters through one of their episode in season 13, Whale Whore.

Environmental NGO’s like Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd remain critical of Japan whale hunting activities, but they had no concrete plans yet to tackle the country over this. Hypotethically speaking, if Japan does defy all the criticism and stick with the whale hunting, there’s a good chance that Japanese whaling will gradually die out by itself, either from losing interest in whale meat or perhaps extiction. For our amusement, an American TV show South Park, dedicated an episode to expose Japanese Whalers in season 13 episode 11, Whale Whores.

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