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Japan Takes Humpbacks Off The Menu For Now

Posted By Sarah Backhouse On December 25, 2007 @ 12:50 am In G Living,Nature / Non Human Stories | No Comments

I’m pleased to announce that in Japan, humpback whales are officially off the menu — I mean, off the research list, as the country has euphemistically termed their annual slaughter. At least for a year. Surely, Hayden will be pleased.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said across the board.

Bowing to pressure from Australia, Japan will stop slaughtering humpback whales — at least for this season. The country’s leading spokesman, Nobotaka Machimura, confirmed: “Japan has decided not to catch humpback whales for one year or two, but there will be no change in our stance on research whaling”. Japan had originally intended to kill 50 humpback whales, which prompted a furious backlash down under, where an estimated 1.5 million tourists take part in whale-watching excursions each year.

While a spokesman for the Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith welcomes the move by Japan, he added, “The Australian government strongly believes that there is no credible justification for the hunting of any whales, and will vigorously pursue its efforts […] to see an end to whaling by Japan.”

This key cultural difference of the two countries could prove costly, as Australia is close military ally and trading partner of Japan.

Meanwhile, Japan’s whaling fleet — now en route to the southern ocean’s whale sanctuary — will proceed with plans to kill 900 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales. Greenpeace spokesman Dave Walsh, on board the group’s ship Esperanza says, “We don’t think that one particular type of whale should be singled out. We’d like to see an end to the hunt altogether. Remember, Japan is still going to kill about 1,000 other whales this season.”

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling back in 1986 but made an exception for Japan under the premise of “scientific research”. Critics would argue that it is in fact commercial whaling in disguise, and that the whale meat often ends up at the Tsukiji fish market before being distributed to supermarkets and restaurants.

Whaling has been practiced in some parts of Japan (like Wakayama) since the 17th century. It gained popularity after WWII as an inexpensive source of protein. Since then, however, as incomes rose, that protein has been replaced by beef, pork, tuna, salmon. The underlying concern for Japan — one of the biggest consumers of seafood the planet — is that other fish may start to be regulated in same way as whaling. (That and a sense of pride about not being told what to do.)

As a half-Japanese Australian passport holder, it’s clear that Japan has to face facts: fishing is simply not sustainable at its current rate, and no amount of tradition or pride can change that.

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