Every month between November 2011 and March 2012, Japanese officials conducted auctions in an attempt to sell whale meat from the country’s “scientific” whaling program in the North Pacific. The total amount of whale meat on the block: 1211.9 tons. Total amount sold: 303.1 tons. Total amount remaining: 908.8 tons.
Writing on the website of Japan’s Dolphin and Whale Action Network, journalist Junko Sakuma not only revealed the figures but also provided a breakdown showing that while tail meat (which is considered the prime cut) from minke whales sold out, similar meat from Bryde’s whales could barely sell at all, even when the asking price was dropped by half. As for sei whale meat: well, don’t even ask about sei whale meat.
Sakuma’s assessment: There’s simply far more whale meat available for sale in Japan than the market can bear. In addition to the meat from whales killed in the Northwest Pacific, there is meat from whales killed in a similar ‘research’ program in the Antarctic, meat from whales killed by coastal communities in Japan, and imported meat from Iceland’s whaling program.
This has created a glut, even though the number of whales killed in the Antarctic over the past two years has dropped considerably, at least partly as a result of harassment of the whaling fleet by Sea Shepherd.
According to The Guardian, the Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs Japan’s whaling programs in the Antarctic and Northwest Pacific, “blamed low demand on the complicated auction procedure and reluctance among food suppliers to attract criticism from anti-whaling groups.” In fact, as The Guardian notes, a 2006 poll found that 95 percent of Japanese say they never or rarely eat whale meat, forcing the industry to put 20 percent of its whale meat haul into frozen storage and seek new outlets for it, including school lunches and to-go food. The latest findings show that such strategies are not working and that whaling remains an industry in search of a market.
A minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), the smallest baleen whale, breathing in small pool of open water in an ice channel, swims under the ice edge looking for plankton, in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. (Norbert Wu, Corbis)
Graphic from Japan’s Dolphin and Whale Action Network (Junko Sakuma)