Cetacean Team Logo


Illegal Whaling - Japan

The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic animals - Michael Gove, DEFRA.


Restoration of the Whaling Issue

The latest whaling debate was sparked by Japan who announced just before Christmas 2018 that it will be leaving the IWC to commence commercial whaling from July 2019 within its own territorial waters, an area of roughly 4.5 million square kilometers.


As an international organisation based upon voluntary membership, the IWC has no authority to compel adherence to its policies or regulations by non-member states. Accordingly, by leaving the IWC, any international obstacles toward the establishment of an openly commercial whaling operation within Japan’s exclusive economic zone is avoided.


Japan's covert attempt to bury the release of bad news under cover of a national holiday failed. Such news was bound to emerge with a response of global outrage, re-fueling the whaling issue and anti-whaling groups.

Whale harpooned by the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru

Whale caught by exploding grenade harpoon

The UK will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic animals

On hearing the news, Michael Gove, the UK's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary took to Twitter and condemned Japan for restarting commercial whaling. He added: "The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic animals".


We should be outright furious at Japan's plan to start whaling again - Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson MP

Boris Johnson MP

Boris Johnson: "Where is the anger? Where is the outrage?"

UK's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (now Prime Minister) - Boris Johnson, expressed his outrage in The Telegraph on 30 December 2018. He said "It is appalling news that Japan has decided to recommence the commercial killing of whales, and every single potential justification is nonsense. It is simply not true that there are plenty of whales in the sea and that they can now be killed at will." Many of the commenters on the newspapers website proposed retaliatory actions, including an organised boycott of Japanese goods worldwide. The full article is available online in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Japan's continuation of an industrial scale mass slaughter of whales is devastating news where up to 90% of some populations have already been wiped out. Japan in not alone, other respected nations, including Iceland and Norway have a shameful whaling industry that has no place in the 21st Century. Whaling is needless, inhumane, anti-environmental and compromises remaining whale and fish stocks and ocean ecosystems.


Japan will stop at nothing to continue whaling, including:


The following provides some important insights behind Japan's whaling obsession:


Commercial whaling under the banner of 'Scientific Research'

Graph of whaling in Japan since 1975. Whales killed - versus - year

Whales Killed per Year Since 1985


In 1987, using a loophole in the international regulations, Japan continued whaling at a commercial level under the banner of ‘Scientific Research’, which also allowed Japan to set its own quota of whales to be killed for scientific research. 


The IWC intention of the scientific research regulation was that the “number of whales a country could take for science was less than 10. For instance, the possibility of finding a new animal and thus needing to take some in order to describe them scientifically."


Under the banner of 'scientific research', Japan killed more than 14,000 whales which resulted in just two international peer-reviewed scientific papers and a failure to achieve any of the stated objectives. The mountain of whale meat accumulated is close to 5,000 tonnes. The number of whales that Japan killed exceeded all other countries’ scientific whaling programmes combined throughout history.

Making clear the UK’s opposition, Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said: "Japan’s slaughter of whales, supposedly in the name of science is cruel and scientifically unnecessary. We urge Japan to stop this needless killing.  It undermines international efforts to conserve and protect whales and goes against the spirit of the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling. There is absolutely no justification for continued whaling and we will continue to oppose whaling at every possible opportunity."


Since 1988, Japans 'scientific research' whaling has cost the government $400 million in taxpayer subsidies.


In 2014, the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Tokyo to cease its whaling activities since they did not meet any conventional scientific standards. As a result, the 2014-15 hunt was cancelled, only to re-emerge a year later under the guise of another scientific research programme.


122 pregnant minke whales killed for 'scientific research'
Credit: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Alamy

122  pregnant Minke whales killed for 'scientific research'

 The findings of an expert panel that advises the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee has stated “Never before has a body associated with the Scientific Committee told Japan that they have failed to demonstrate a need for killing whales.” The panel had rejected Japan’s plan for resuming the killing of Minke whales in the Antarctic. Japan, however, said it will continue with its whaling plans.


In the name of 'scientific research' Japan killed 333 Minke whales of which 122 were pregnant and another 114 were juveniles. Whales are slow to mature and they reproduce in small numbers, so the killing of a pregnant whale is a double blow to the population. But from the position of the Japan Fisheries Agency, who regard Minke whales as "the cockroaches of the ocean", the killing of a pregnant whale may be regarded as killing two birds with one stone.


After the slaughter of 327 Minke whales, the UK government registered its abhorrence


Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at Humane Society International has said, "The killing of 122 pregnant whales is a shocking statistic and sad indictment on the cruelty of Japan's whale hunt. It is further demonstration, if needed, of the truly gruesome and unnecessary nature of whaling operations, especially when non-lethal surveys have been shown to be sufficient for scientific needs."

Non-lethal data-gathering techniques promoted by whale researchers include underwater acoustic methods, biopsy darts, aerial surveys, satellite tagging and drones.


There is no demand for whale meat in Japan

Comparison of whale meat consumption in Japan to national consumption of other meats. Graph of all meat consumption - versus - year

Whale Meat Consumed Compared to Other Meats Since 1930

The Japanese prefer to eat chicken, pork, beef and other meats. The small amount of whale meat that is consumed is by the older generation out of nostalgia, or by the younger generation and tourists out of curiosity.


The demand for whale products in Japan has almost disappeared and continues to fall. By 2013, the per-capita consumption of whale meat was down to one ounce (28 grams) per year.


Due to sea pollution, Japanese consumers are becoming increasingly aware that whale meat is toxic. It contains mercury, cadmium, PCB and DDT levels far exceeding the safe levels for human consumption.


An increase in global awareness on the toxicity of whale meat and related products may encourage Japan to review its whaling policy.


Japan's Institute of Cetacean research failed to sell 900 tonnes, or three-quarters of all the meat harvested from the last round of its so-called scientific research whaling in the north-west Pacific.

Why do the Japanese continue to hunt whales if there's no demand for whale meat?

Money and power is one reason. Whaling in Japan is controlled by a cosy triad, known as the ‘Whaling Iron Triangle’ comprising:


Japan's whaling industry has been loss-making for over 33 years and depends on taxpayer subsidies and funds diverted from relief aid.  The money is used to keep the industry afloat and to provide 'financial aid' and bribes to induce countries to support Japan's whaling policy. The government subsidies are received by the non-profit Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), set up to run Japan's whaling programme. The ICR also receives income from the sale of 'scientific research' whale meat.


A year after it was set-up in 1987, the ICR started to receive subsidies. Between 1988-2010, taxpayer subsidies amounted to US$150 million. Since then, the average annual subsidy increased to US$9.78 million. Then, In 2014, the government subsidy was US$50 million.


The Institute of Cetacean Research not only runs Japan’s whaling program, it also owns Japan’s whaling fleet, hires its mariners, and distributes and stores whale meat. According to 'The Diplomat', It is also where many retired officials from Japan’s fisheries agency and other bureaus go after retirement, forming an extended iron rice bowl system of lucrative sinecures that helps ensure Japanese whaling survives. More insights from a Japanese perspective may be found from this BBC News report.


Personal bribes, cash payments and prostitutes

On 13 June 2010 London’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that its investigation had exposed Japan for bribing small nations with cash and prostitutes to gain their support for the mass slaughter of whales. "Such backroom stitch-ups at the IWC have often been rumoured, but they have never before been captured on a video camera". The lobbyist was, in fact, an undercover reporter from the Sunday Times," as reported in the archive news of GreenEcoPeace


The representatives of six countries were contacted, and the paper caught on hidden video high government officials of various countries making comments, such as “we switched to supporting whaling since we want official development assistance from Japan” and “we received money from Japan to cover our delegation’s transportation and hotel expenses.”


The payments were made in cash handed over in brown envelopes at the beginning of the meeting. Some of those interviewed even described call girls being made available to them during official visits to Japan.  Japan’s largesse also extended to paying for the hotel room and flight of the supposedly neutral IWC Chair, Anthony Liverpool of Antigua and Barbuda.


In terms of the whales themselves, The Sunday Times editorialised that, “The fate of these remarkable creatures should not be decided by brown envelopes and prostitutes.”


In June 2010, the BBC reported that Japan used aid money to persuade developing countries to support its whaling.


Interestingly, Mali, Laos and Mongolia are members of the International Whaling Commission who also vote for Japan yet they are entirely surrounded by land and have no tradition of whaling.


Using tsunami relief funds to kill whales

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake shook north eastern Japan, unleashing a savage tsunami. The tsunami caused a cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which resulted in a level-7 nuclear meltdown and release of radioactive materials. The total number of deaths caused by the tsunami was 19,575 as of 2017 September.

Whaling ship taisho maru no 28 amongst beached debris following Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami
Image credit: Kazuhiro/Getty

Beached whaling boat following the 2011 tsunami

 Japan has admitted that some of its disaster funds earmarked for earthquake and tsunami relief will instead go to boost security for its so-called “scientific” whale hunts. Japan Fisheries Agency officials admitted that about  US$29 million would be taken from a US$6.4 billion portion of disaster funds earmarked for fisheries related spending,


The Japan Fisheries Agency says the trip's use of $28 million from the earthquake recovery fund is legitimate, because it is taken from the government’s own quake recovery fund.


Greenpeace Japan executive director Junichi Sato says "It is used to cover the debts of the whaling program because the whaling program itself has been suffering from big financial problems."

The cockroaches are killing all the fish

From July 2019, Japan will withdraw its commercial whaling operations to around its own territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. Cutting through all the unconvincing justification propaganda behind this move, the most likely reason is that Japan feels convinced that whales, referred to as cockroaches, are responsible for the decline in fish stocks and that gluttonous whales are threatening fish stocks. This argument is also made by Norway and Iceland and is misleadingly used to increase support for whaling.


The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration US Department of Commerce reports that "In truth, humans are primarily responsible for fisheries declines. It is humans who continue to threaten the world's stocks through overfishing and reluctance to allow stocks to naturally replenish".


There is no qualified scientific evidence that cetations (whales, dolphins and porpoise) have harmed commercial fisheries. There is an increasing body of evidence that more whales equal more fish. Although some whales do eat fish, they give back to the ecosystem more than they take enabling fish to thrive and multiply. On the other hand, man has taken fish and given nothing back except degradation of the marine environment.


Killing whales will not increase fish populations. Whales are not the top ocean predator, Man is responsible for overexploiting 75% of all commercial fish stocks. By killing whales around its own exclusive economic zone, Japan will further deplete its remaining fish stocks by destroying the vital ecosystem functions provided by whales.


Japan's overfishing problem started in the 1800's but only became noticeable around the mid 1900’s. Japan is the largest fish-eating nation in the world consuming 10% of the world catch. Fish catches were the third in the world in 2000. The overfishing problem is becoming serious causing depleted catches and some species to be fished out.


Global warming and accompanying rising sea temperatures are also impacting Japans coastal ecosystem. The Japanese environment ministry has said that 70% of the Sekisei lagoon in Okinawa had been killed by a phenomenon known as bleaching.


The best solution to the problem includes: rebuilding overexploited stocks by relieving fishing pressure, improving catch selectivity of fishing gear and fishing exploitation patterns, protecting habitats, creating generous marine protected areas and no-take zones, addressing subsidised industrial scale fleets at WTO level, address destruction of habitat and sea bed scouring caused by trawl fisheries, encouraging cultural shift in fish-eating patterns, where possible, stricter monitoring, control and enforcement of illegal fising activities, practices and endangered fish-take, encouraging and supporting fishermen to take up alternative occupations e.g. profitable whale tourism.



The 'whales-eat-all-the-fish' argument

This seemingly logical statement is fast becoming a myth in the light of modern scientific research. The argument may be easier to blindly accept than understand the important role of whales in the ecosystem in replenishing fish stocks. Therefore, the 'whales-eat-all-the-fish' argument is cultivated by the whaling nations to justify the killing of whales for whatever reason or agenda. It also distracts from the root cause of the problem - overfishing and fisheries mismanagement. Bearing in mind that Japan consumes 1 in 10 of the world's fish catch.


Toxic wave of ocean chemical pollution from 1940 to 2050

Blue Whale

A single blue whale, for example, eats up to 4000kg (8,800 lbs) of krill every day for a four-month period. Yet, the whales do not eat all the krill. They regenerate krill by fertilising the phytoplankton upon which the krill depend. Researchers have found that when baleen whales are killed in the southern ocean, the krill numbers decline, which then affects the whole food chain. When whales are present, the krill that they consume are more than replenished sufficient for themselves and all the other sea creatures, fish and birds that feed on krill.


Science is increasingly proving that whales are not a competitor for fish but a cultivator of fish and partner with man. Therefore, it makes no sense that humans keep killing them through whaling, poison, plastic, sonar, ship strikes, entanglement etc.


The Japan Institute of Cetacean Research recently published a paper to reinforce the 'whales-eat-all-the-fish' argument to justify their continuation of commercial whaling. The paper was received by Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, UK as A Modern Myth Based on Pseudo-Science.


A fact not often considered is that when whales were plentiful, so too were fish, Modern scientific research is increasingly showing us the vital role whales play in maintaining the health of the oceans, supporting fish populations, generating oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Without whales, ocean life as we know it would not exist and fishing industries would totally collapse.


The legacy of sea dumped munitions around Japan

Fish stock security around the coastal waters of Japan are increasingly threatend by the past dumping of conventional and chemical munitions.


According to US veterans, tones of chemical weapons were dumped of Okinawa in 1969. Following World War II, The United States dumped 6,600 tons of the Imperial Japanese Army’s stocks of munitions — including mustard agent and hydrogen cyanide, a potent asphyxiant. According to records held by the Ministry of the Environment in Tokyo, disposal was at more than 20 sites off Tokyo and Ibaraki and Hiroshima prefectures. Two of the substances thought to have been dumped off Okinawa are the nerve agents sarin and VX, which are believed to persist for long periods in ocean waters. A 2009 report by the Monterey institute suggested that lewisite - another of the substances stored on Okinawa and possibly dumped off its coast - can contaminate marine life for decades.


In Okinawa during the late 1960s, there were a series of incidents which sparked residents’ fears of chemical-weapons leaks. Those included a spate of mass fish deaths and about 200 children becoming sick after they had been swimming in the sea near Ten Gan Pier.


A chronology of chemical weapons disposal at Okinawa is provided under Operation Red Hat.


According to the Monterey institute’s 2010 report, “The risks may be higher today than when the dangers of the dumped materiel were first acknowledged because containment failure, due to corrosion, is thought to occur after 50 years.”


A detailed paper on the sea dumping of toxic chemical weapons around Japan's coastal waters concludes: "In light of the potential risk these chemical weapons pose both to the environment and local communities not only in Japan but also in the Pacific Ocean, further research and action is urgently needed".


Known details of the conventional and chemical munitions dump sites around Japan, and the rest of the world, is reported in our environmental page.