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Japan seeks to include fin whales in commercial hunts

In a significant shift, Japan’s Fisheries Agency has proposed the inclusion of fin whales in its commercial whaling activities – a move that extends beyond the current catch of three smaller whale species.

This announcement marks another step in the country’s contentious journey with whaling, particularly since resuming commercial operations within its exclusive economic zone after exiting the International Whaling Commission in 2019.

A tradition revisited

Commercial whaling resumed after Japan withdrew from international oversight, ending three decades of what was termed “research whaling.” This practice was heavily criticized by global conservation communities, condemned as a guise for commercial whaling, which had been prohibited since 1988.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi emphasized the cultural significance of whaling in Japan. “Whales are an important food resource and we believe they should be sustainably utilized just like any other marine resources, based on scientific evidence. It is also important to carry on Japan’s traditional food culture.”

The Fisheries Agency is now soliciting public feedback on this proposal until June 5, aiming for approval in the mid-June review meeting.

According to the agency, extensive stock surveys have indicated a sufficient recovery of the fin whale population in the North Pacific, supporting the case for their inclusion in commercial whaling quotas.

Implications of the proposal

Despite the inclusion of fin whales, Japan’s agency emphasized that this expansion is not aimed at significantly increasing the supply of whale meat. Additionally, whalers targeting fin whales will not be subject to a specific quota.

For context, the quota for the other three species this year is set at 379, following a year in which only 294 whales were caught.

This catch is well below the allocated quota and much less than the numbers previously harvested in Antarctic and northwestern Pacific operations under the guise of research.

Cultural and economic perspectives

The evolution of Japan’s relationship with whale meat has been marked by necessity and cultural shifts. Post-World War II, whale meat was a critical, affordable protein source, with consumption peaking at 233,000 tons in 1962.

However, as other meats became available, whale meat’s popularity waned, with recent consumption dwindling to approximately 2,000 tons per year.

Despite this decline, some local voices, like Hideyuki Saito from Saitama, express a desire for a resurgence in popularity. “I want more people to appreciate the taste of whale,” said Saito.

Global reactions to fin whale hunting

Internationally, the practice of whaling, particularly the inclusion of fin whales, remains highly controversial.

For instance, Shirley Bosworth from Australia opposes whaling, highlighting the need for protection of these majestic creatures, which are often helped back to sea by communities when beached on Australian shores.

On the innovation front, Kyodo Senpaku Co., a leading whaling company, has introduced whale meat vending machines and recently unveiled a new mother ship costing 7.5 billion yen, promising a commitment to sustainable whaling practices.

The future of fin whale hunting in Japan

As Japan navigates the complexities of cultural heritage and global conservation efforts, the balance between traditional practices and ecological sustainability continues to be a pivotal challenge.

The proposal by the Fisheries Agency to include fin whales reflects a nation’s attempt to honor its past while engaging with the present – a conversation that remains as dynamic as the seas from which these debates have sprung.

More about fin whales 

Fin whales are the second-largest species of whale, closely following the blue whale in size. They can reach lengths of up to 85 feet and are known for their incredible speed and agility in the water, earning them the nickname “the greyhound of the sea.” 

These whales have a distinctive asymmetrical head coloring, with the right lower jaw being bright white and the left side dark. They are baleen whales, using their fringed plates to filter small fish, squid, and krill from the ocean. 

Found throughout the world’s oceans, from polar to tropical waters, fin whales prefer deep, offshore environments. Despite their vast range, they are listed as vulnerable due to past whaling practices which drastically reduced their numbers. 


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