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Japan decides to start Commercial Whale Hunting

Japan decides to start Commercial Whale Hunting

Tag: GS 3 || Environment || Biodiversity|| Marine Organisms

Why in news?

  • On December 26th 2018, Japan announced it will leave the IWC and return to commercial whaling in July 2019.


  • Japan has for decades been steadfastly defiant about hunting whales despite widespread anger, including from key allies like the United States.
  • After roughly 30 years of what it has called scientific research whaling, which saw several hundred minke whales taken annually in the Antarctic and North Pacific, Japan in December 2018 announced it would leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling on July 1, 2019.

How long Japan has been whaling?

  • Some areas whaled in prehistory, and in modern times eating them has been mostly confined to specific regions.
    • Whaling historically thrived in the western Japanese town of Taiji until its whaling fleet was devastated in an 1878 storm. They currently have a ship that takes part in coastal whaling and will join the July 1 fleet.
  • Though Japan’s government insists eating whale is an important part of the country’s food culture, consumption did not become widespread until after World War Two, when the occupation authorities encouraged it to feed the impoverished population.
  • Eating whale peaked in the early 1960s, falling off as other meat became more available.
    • Many older Japanese nostalgically recall eating fried or stewed whale in school lunches.

Japan and IWC

  • Japan joined the IWC in 1951, six years after the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed to found the group, aimed at sustainably managing commercial whaling.
    • But a growing environmental movement shifted the group’s emphasis towards conservation.
    • Japanese politicians, scientists and government officials regarded that as betraying the group’s founding principles and ignoring the fact that not all whale species were endangered.
  • In 1988, two years after an international moratorium on commercial whaling began, Japan started scientific research whaling in the North Pacific and the Antarctic.
  • Japanese officials asserted that it provided vital population information, but anti-whaling nations said it was commercial whaling in disguise.
  • In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled Japan’s whaling plan was unscientific, forcing it to call off the 2014-2015 hunt.
    • Japan returned the next season with a re-tooled plan to take several hundred Antarctic minkes.
    • But in following years it threatened to leave the IWC, saying the group had become paralysed.

How will this decision impact Japan?

  • As a result, Japan will cease taking whales from the Antarctic Ocean and Southern Hemisphere & it will conduct commercial whaling “within Japan’s territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone”.
  • Japan can no longer take advantage of the IWC’s exemption for scientific whaling in international waters and would therefore have to halt whaling on the high seas.


  • Japan has long felt vulnerable about food security.
    • For the last 20 years, according to Agriculture Ministry data, only about 40 percent of the calories the average Japanese person consumes every day is domestically produced.
  • As competition for marine resources heats up, Japan – one of the world’s largest consumers of fish – feels the pressure.
  • Others say whale provides protein with a smaller carbon footprint than beef or pork.
  • It’s withdrawal may inspire other countries, such as South Korea and Russia, to follow suit.
  • Japan’s withdrawal from IWC won’t matter much as Japan was in any case doing whaling in the garb of scientific research.
  • Other countries like Iceland and Norway have continued to hunt whales, global co-operation is required.
  • Environment: The world’s oceans face multiple threats such as acidification and plastic pollution, in addition to overfishing.
    • As a result of modern fleet technology, overfishing in both Japanese coastal waters and high seas areas has led to the depletion of many whale species.
    • Most whale populations have not yet been recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.
    • As a country surrounded by oceans where people’s lives have been heavily reliant on marine resources, it is essential for Japan to work towards healthy oceans.
    • Japan’s government has so far failed to resolve these problems.

No real need?

  • Roughly 300 people are directly involved in whaling.
    • Demand for whale has been stagnant for more than a decade at roughly 5,000 tonnes annually.
    • That breaks down to roughly 40 grams per person a year, or half the mass of a medium-sized apple.
  • Nobody in the industry expects demand or profits to grow rapidly when commercial whaling resumes.

Mains question

  • Critically analyze the factors behind Japan resuming commercial whaling.