Japan’s new whaling ‘mother ship’ is the mother of all mistakes

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The WCA was horrified, although sadly not surprised, to hear that Japan is building a 113-metre-long commercial whaling ‘mother ship’. This ship will be used to store and freeze the bodies of whales killed by smaller vessels from the whaling company Kyōdō Senpaku.

An article in The Japan News states that the new ship is needed due to “fears that whaling and whale-eating may cease to exist.” But what about the fear that whales themselves could be hunted out of existence?

It’s estimated that a staggering 3 million whales were killed by commercial whaling in the last century alone. Without the IWC moratorium, it’s possible that some species, such as blue whales, would already be extinct.

Most worryingly, this new ship will be capable of sailing as far as Antarctica, raising concerns that Japan might try to resume commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean, where many whales migrate to feed on krill.

A whale harpooned by a Japanese whaling vessel in 2008. Photo by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (CC-BY-SA-3.0).

Japan’s whaling lobby tries to claim that whaling needs to continue because it has always been an integral part of Japanese culture. However, the reality is that eating whale wasn’t normalised in Japanese society until after the second World War, and it fell in popularity once other types of meat became more affordable. Surveys by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Asahi Shimbun show that the majority of Japanese people no longer buy whale meat.

Meanwhile, many places around the world – including some communities within Japan – have proven that it’s possible to recognise the cultural and historical significance of whaling without continuing it in practice.

Whaling museums, public art, songs, and festival displays or dramatic re-enactments are all ways in which people are acknowledging and keeping this maritime heritage alive, with no need to continue killing whales.

A whale model in Kayoi, Japan. This village historically participated in coastal whaling, but now reenacts the practice (using this model) as part of a whale festival held each year. Traditional whaling songs are also performed at the festival, which demonstrates that the continuation of whaling is not necessary for the preservation of whaling-related cultural heritage. Photo by Dr. Aike Rots.

Commercial whaling in the 21st century is unjustifiable. It’s an inhumane practice that exists purely for the profit of a few – and not much profit either, since it’s in desperate need of being propped up by subsidies. Whale watching in Japan is a far more successful industry than commercial whaling, so why keep slaughtering these wonderful, intelligent animals?

Japan’s government needs to finally call time on the dying and deadly business of whaling, and instead focus on protecting the cetaceans they’re fortunate enough to share their waters with.

Header image: An adult and sub-adult minke whale are dragged aboard a Japanese whaling ship in 2008. Photo by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (CC-BY-SA-3.0).

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