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The end of whaling in Japan?

February 17, 2011

In recent years Japan has become a hotbed of activity for anti-whaling and environmental groups. With the popularity of the show “Whale Wars” and the documentary “The Cove”, knowledge of Japan’s whaling has gone mainstream. And it might finally be paying off. Yesterday Japan announced a suspension to its annual whale hunt, but activists were only cautiously optimistic.

Members of the Sea Shepherd in action.

Despite a 1986 international ban on whaling, Japan has continued to hunt minke whales under a loophole that allows a certain number of whales to be killed for research purposes. Members of the Sea Shepherd, who are featured on “Whale Wars”, believe the whales are being killed for commercial purposes. Members of the team follow Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean (also known as the Antarctic Ocean) and harass them to prevent them from killing whales. Japanese whalers say they are suspending their whaling because they fear for their safety due to the actions by members of the Sea Shepherd.

While Green Party member of New Zealand’s parliament Gareth Hughes said, “There is a chance this could be the last whaling season in the Southern Ocean and New Zealand needs to keep up the pressure,” some welcomed the news with skepticism. Activists who have worked to prevent whaling in Japan think this might be a bluff, and the whalers may be taking a different route to the Southern Ocean via the Indian Ocean.

A minke whale, doing his thing.

Whether this suspension is real or not remains to be seen, but why would Japan suspend whaling now? There may be a couple of reasons other than the safety factor the whalers claim. This whaling season only 30 to 100 were killed — a much smaller number than the 1,000 the whalers hoped to kill. In addition, fewer Japanese people are eating whale, stockpiles of whale meat are at an estimated 6,000 tons. With people losing their appetite for whale meat, whaling may no longer be an economically sound investment. If the reason for the suspension is actually due to less meat being consumed, it would confirm that Japan was not whaling for research purposes.

While we can’t be sure what this news actually means for the whales, it seems like a great start. Less whales are being killed and the public finally seems to be against whaling. Let’s hope Japan actually meant it when they said they would be suspending their whaling season.

Susan

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