Whaling may be sunk by commercial reality

January 16th, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Whale "bacon" in supermarket display case

Japan’s annual research whaling expedition is now being carried out in the Antarctic. As always, the controversy over whaling receives more coverage in the foreign press than it does in the Japanese media, which for all intents and purposes doesn’t normally pay attention unless arrests or violence is involved. However, Tokyo Shimbun last week reported on some of the commercial aspects of the issue.

According to the newspaper, in 2011 the amount of frozen whale in storage and designated for retail distribution exceeded 5,000 tons, which is almost three times the amount of frozen whale meat in storage 10 years ago. There are two sources of this meat: imports from other whale-catching countries, and the research whaling program carried out by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research and the company Kyodo Senpaku. The purpose of the research is to “determine growth by means of checking weight and body length” of whales that are caught and killed. Afterward, the whale meat is sold to help pay for the research, which costs about ¥6 billion a year. The Japanese government provides a subsidy of ¥1 billion, which means the meat sales have to cover the remaining ¥5 billion.

The increase in frozen inventory means that the costs aren’t being covered, and that the research project is operating in the red, though Tokyo Shimbun doesn’t say by how much. Until 2006, the amount of yearly stock kept increasing because the annual catch quota was also increasing, but ever since the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society started interfering with the Antarctic hunt the amounts caught have not increased. However, overall stocks have. At the end of 2010, they amounted to 5,300 tons, and though Kyodo Senpaku only brought back 18 percent of its planned catch last year after it cut short the hunt, as of last October stocks of whale meat had increased to 5,400 tons.

An official of Kyodo Senpaku told the paper that “supermarkets with international business” have stopped carrying whale meat due to pressure from antiwhaling groups and foreign stockholders. Ito Yokado stopped selling whale several years ago because of low demand. In addition, Maruha Nichiro Holdings ceased its whale meat canning operations in 2008, also because of pressure from antiwhaling groups.

However, Tokyo Shimbun says that the main disincentive seems to be economic. A survey of supermarkets in the Kanto region found that the going rate for whale sashimi is about ¥400 per 100 grams, which is the same as that for high quality Japanese beef. One supermarket manager told the paper that the only customers who ever buy whale are old people “who have some nostalgic longing for it.” Young people never buy it. We visited three supermarkets near out home and found that only two carried whale “bacon” in vacuum-sealed packages containing only four or five very thin slices for about ¥500.

The Japan Institute of Cetacean Research has asked the government to “review the cost management system using whale meat sales,” which is basically another way of saying it has asked the government for larger subsidies to make up for the shortfall in revenues. It isn’t clear what the government will do. Last year the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries created an advisory panel to study the issue. Some members recommended the government take over the research whaling program, while others said that it wasn’t worth the cost and the “danger.”

As a side note, last year a Tohoku University assistant professor named Atsushi Ishii published a book called “Hoge Ronso” (“Whale Hunting Controversy”), which advances the hypothesis that the conflict between pro- and anti-whaling forces is not caused by whaling itself but by the need for each side to have an adversary, because without the conflict neither position can exist. Due to protests, especially violent protests, advocates for the resumption of commercial whaling can demand more money and attention from the Japanese government for research whaling. On the other hand, antiwhaling groups can point to Japan’s intransigence over the issue in order to raise more money.

Commercial whaling is basically a moribund industry, so the prowhaling side needs enemies like Sea Shepherd to keep it alive. By the same token, if Japan gave up the research whaling program, Sea Shepherd would lose its formidable fundraising base. Ishii says that the conflicts over global warming and nuclear power work on the same dynamic.

(Edit: The following line was removed with regard to one of the comments: “Sea Shepherd, for instance, recently purchased expensive drone airplanes to use in its quest to stop the Antarctic hunt.”)

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11 Responses

  1. Which means that anti-whalers should go after the Japanese government, via the Japanese public: your government is wasting your taxes for food nobody wants, that makes you look bad internationally.

    Over on Japan Probe, the site where nothing can ever be wrong with Japan, there is a far less intelligent discussion on the same issue.

  2. Japan’s annual research whaling expedition . . .

    I would think that after all this time the “research” should be in quotation marks as no one takes the official “We had to kill the whales to save the whales” justification any longer.

  3. One correction: the “expensive” drones were donated by a company in New Jersey, they were not purchased by Sea Shepherd.

  4. As a Sea Shepherd supporter & totally against whaling I would be in 7th heaven, as every other Sea shepherd supporter would be if Japan was to stop this barbaric & cruel so called Scientific research. It would free up the SS vessels to go & focus on their many other campaigns for sharks, seals, Galapogos Islands, the Faroe Islands brutal slaughters of Pilot whales, the Cove Gaurdians observing some of the thousands of dolphins that are slaughterd yearly in the infamous Taiji cove. So I don’t think that Sea Shepherd will hurt in the least financially because there is no Japanese whaling fleet. Infact they would all be rejoicing! And my God would Japans reputation change in a heartbeat if this was to happen. The majority of environmental/wildlife supporters are not fickle & are aware that all our wildlife, marine or otherwise, & our environment are all interconnected.

  5. Sea Shepherd has alot of other people to go after. Sealers, whalers, Illegal fishermen.

  6. We cannot buy 100g of Japanese premium beef for 400 yen.

    Did the author really investigate in the supermarket?

    Anti-whaling seems to find fault with Japanese whaling.

    The unusual worship to whales is only the superstition created by hippies and new age science.

  7. How about people killing and eating other animals like cows, pigs and chickens? Is it justifiable to kill and eat them due to the perception that they are less intelligent? How about the rain
    forest, jungles, etc that are destroyed
    because farmers need to grow more grains to feed these cows and pigs?

  8. Several recent studies of whales excrement have shown that they are fertilising the seas wherever they go. In the Antarctic the iron-rich one-ton-at-a-time bowel movements are supplying krill with the iron they need (krill feed the ecosystem all the way up to tuna – which is a far more important food source than whale flesh to Japan). In the gulf of Maine the nitrogen supplied by marine mammals such as whales feed the zooplankton that feed the ecosystem of fish there and elsewhere..

    http://utas.academia.edu/AndrewBowie/Papers/270675/Southern_Ocean_iron_fertilization_by_baleen_whales_and_Antarctic_krill

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952594/

  9. What’s really happening is that the government of Japan needs to have all the conservation world and goverments head on for whales, while it harasses the fish stocks around the world with no one bothering around. That means to it billions of dollars annually, that easily covers the loss they actually have keeping “scientific” whaling alive!!

  10. So a bunch of whale ‘researchers’ may be getting nervous about the future of their unneccesary and corrupt cushy governmental jobs. I hope.

  11. As has been stated, the Japanese government should indeed take into serious consideration the negative message that they are sending to the rest of the World by continuing to financially support and prop-up an industry that nobody wishes to see active in today’s society – not even 90% of your own people.

    Hiding behind the banner of ‘research’ sends a message of utter contempt by the Japanese authorities to the well informed and intelligent masses of our planet. Are they so stupid to believe that this charade generates no less than a vision of ridicule and disdain toward the country of Japan? I would love to visit Japan but I will never venture to their shores whilst they continue to support this vile, needless and archaic activity. I may be just one, but how many other ‘ones’ are there?

    Come on Japan; stop isolating yourself, stop making yourself appear foolish and pathetic to the rest of world. STOP supporting this dead industry and divert the resources and finances to a more productive and humane source.

    If you are truly an honourable people that you must be able to see that this is destroying everything you stand for as a nation and as a people.

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