Japan's Whalers Return to Pacific


When Japan’s whaling fleet departed its Antarctic whaling grounds in February, two months early and having killed only 170 of its intended 945 whales, there was widespread speculation — which remains — that it marked an end to the country’s decades-long history of whale hunting in the Southern Ocean.

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There was little or no such expectation that the same would be true for the country’s North Pacific whaling program — which, being much closer to the country’s coastline, requires less investment than is the case in the Antarctic. It also is not subject to the strict environmental protocols governing activities in the southern polar region. That lack of optimism was justified over the weekend following the announcement by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) that a fleet of three vessels had left port to hunt 260 whales in the Northwest Pacific between now and the end of August.

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Commercial whaling was suspended indefinitely by the International Whaling Commission beginning with the 1985/86 Antarctic season; however, since 1987, Japan has circumvented that suspension in the Antarctic by dubbing its activities “scientific research.” The North Pacific program began in 1994, and ICR officials announced that the 260 whales being targeted by this year’s hunt would be analyzed for “stomach contents, DNA and other information.”

A 2003 review criticized Japan’s North Pacific research whaling for, among other things, “a lack of testable hypotheses or performance measures,” and concluded that both it and the Antarctic effort “appear to be long-term, open-ended whaling programs that keep an industry operating.”

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Photo: Whale meat from Japan’s “research” programs on sale in a market in Osaka. Photo by Zenwort via Wikimedia Commons.

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