Japan dives back into minke whale hunting, defying the International Court of Justice decision of March 31st, 2014 and the International Whaling Commission.
What exactly is so outrageous about Japan’s decision to restart the whaling program it has sustained throughout the years? From a cultural perspective we need not look any further than the World War II. With Japan’s economy hitting rock bottom at the time, food became increasingly scarce.
As such, it was General Douglas MacArthur who first introduced whale hunting to the Japanese and whale meat as an alternative nourishment. In 1946 Japan was endowed with two military tankers transformed into whaling ships. Industrial whaling was then at its advent. That generation of Japanese children was raised with whale meat as the main source of food.
International activist groups have more recently pointed fingers at the continuation of the practice. In 1986 the International Whaling Commission declared commercial whale hunting unlawful. Whale hunting for scientific purposes remained untouched. Under this specification, Japan continued its whaling program with a quota of 1,000 minke whales hunted every year.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice also ruled that Japan’s whaling program is in fact commercial. As such, it should be banned effective immediately after the decision was issued. Japan conformed to the ICJ decision for a while. Now, a new decision emerged, introducing NEWREP-A, Japan’s new whaling program.
With NEWREP-A, Japan dives back into minke whale hunting. Nonetheless, it will reduce the quota to almost a third, with 333 whales hunted yearly for a period of 12 years. For scientific purposes of course.
As Japan is drawing international attention once more, Norway and Iceland continue their commercial whaling programs unabated. What’s behind Japan’s whaling program? It’s hard to tell. Whale meat is not even among the top preferences of the Japanese cuisine. Long gone are the days of the post-World War II when children were raised with this meat. Many Japanese have never even tried minke whale meat.
While whale hunting is a tradition in some parts of Japan, it still doesn’t explain the ambition to carry on with the large scale national whaling program. In 2006 Greenpeace and the Nippon Research Center conducted a poll revealing that 95 percent of Japanese citizens have either not tried minke whale meat in their lives or they ate it once or rarely.
Thus, it stands clear that neither tradition nor a specific taste for minke whale meat uphold the stubbornness of Japan’s whaling program. As per whale hunting for scientific purposes, it might make up a portion of the pie chart.
More than following scientific purposes, Japan could in fact be placing a mirror to the irrationality and symbolic approach of international activism fighting to save the whales. Minke whales making up a large percentage of the species hunted by Japan are nowhere near endangered. If the topic is saving species and conservation, bluefin tuna would be a far better choice for international activist campaigns. Then again, a bluefin tuna is not as charismatic as a whale, is it?
Photo Credits: Flickr