Is Japan allowed to catch any whales for food use?
June 25, 2008 2:27 AM   Subscribe

I have just read an article in the New Scientist about the Chile Whaling Conference. The article describes how Japan is allowed to catch 1000 whales each year for scientific purposes, yet has been accused of allowing some of the meat to make it's way to the dinner table. I lived in Japan a couple of years ago, and every supermarket seemed to sell small quantities of whale meat, and it wasn't a particularly rare sight in many restaurants. Would this meat be part of this, presumeably illegal, "for scientific purposes only", catch? Or do they have a separate quota for food use?
posted by mairuzu to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My recollection is that the meat left over after the "scientific purposes" are complete can be legally sold for consumption.
posted by Grinder at 2:38 AM on June 25, 2008

Japan also operates a small coastal whaling fishery in Taji, Wakayama (and a few other places); dolphins, pilot whales and other smaller species are harvested here, and the majority of the whale meat found in local supermarkets in Japan comes from this hunt.

I don't know the ins and outs of the International Whaling Commission treaties, but nations can hunt otherwise unendangered species of whales such as dolphins and pilot whales for cultural purposes.

And more power to them.

Many of the larger baleen whales such as sei whales and fins are caught in international waters, and so the catch is more strictly regulated. Japan can do whatever it wants within its own economic zone, and so the dolphin catch continues.

Most of the whale meat harvested from whales caught in international waters as part of the scientific research program is stockpiled in warehouses. The consumption of whale meat is declining year by year, and it is widely acknowledged that Japan uses whaling activities (or the threat of increasing whaling activities) as a bargaining chip in international politics.

Anyway, whale meat was regarded as a cheap source of protein after the war, and many people grew up eating it. My own wife, who was at school in the 70s and early 80s, was regularly served whale meat as part of school lunch.

I've always tried to avoid the "whaling = bad" argument with my Japanese hosts, but what I would like to say to them is that, while it's certainly a public-relations disaster, the small, so-called artisanal whale hunt in Tajimi certainly does represent a link to Japan's cultural past that should be preserved.

However, industrial-scale whaling using explosive harpoons is not sustainable and is most definitely not linked to Japan's distant past, and so should be stopped immediately.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:32 AM on June 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

And more power to them.

There are a lot of animal rights arguments against the hunts, for which I have some sympathy despite the cultural issues at heart, but from a more objective viewpoint, this one points out that among other issues, "A city councilman in Taiji, Junichiro Yamashita, grew so concerned about mercury levels that he persuaded locals schools to stop serving dolphin meat at lunch. He even plucked some of his hair, sent it off for testing and discovered that it contained seven times as much mercury as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe." So there are definitely some problems with even local hunts that aren't based around emotional or cultural arguments.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:05 AM on June 25, 2008

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