Whaling Wars

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

There she blows…There she blows. You may recognise this phrase from Herman Melville’s iconic book Moby dick, which was published in 1851 at the height of whaling. Only 135 years after this fictional book was published was a temporary moratorium on whaling put into place. When the International Whaling Commission (IWC) came into power its main objective was to control the whaling so that the majority of whale species populations could recover. The (IWC) later changed its stance to a more conservation orientated organisation and have subsequently not lifted this moratorium.

Whale breeching from the water.

Japans Whaling History

Japan is renowned for their ancient heritage and cultural traditions. It is said that Japan have a long standing history for whaling, however it was only after World War 2 that the island really depended on whale meat. Since the Moratorium was put into place, Japan and other pro whaling countries such as Norway and Iceland have fought tooth and nail to try and lift this Moratorium without any success. Having watched Japans campaign strategy for World War 2 on tv, it is evident that the Japanese do not give up until the bitter end, and the same could be said about their whaling views. In order to get around the moratorium, Japan took advantage of the research clause which was put into place by the (IWC), this clause stipulated that a certain quota of whales could be hunted for research purposes. Japan started two whaling research programmes called Japanese Antarctic Research Program (JARPA) which lasted 16 years, mainly catching a quota of 440 Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).

After this they widened their range to the North Pacific and called it the Japanese Research Whaling Program in the North Pacific (JARPN) with its main objective being to catch a further 100 Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). In 2000, the scope of JARPN was expanded to include two other species including Bryde’s (Balaenoptera edeni) and sperm whales (Physeter microcephalus). This involved an annual catch of 100 Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), 50 Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni), and 10 Sperm whales (Physeter microcephalus) and named it JARPN II. Japan justified these catches by saying it was to monitor the whale populations. WOW, I really don’t think that that amount of whales needed to die in the name of research, do you? I also know that there are more effective ways of monitoring a species population other than lethally killing so many individuals. What’s also a concerning thought is that and is the real nail in the coffin as far as research goes, Japan has not published a legitimate amount of peer reviewed literature to quantify the amount of whales being killed.

Whaling is an ancient custom in Japan, dating back centuries

Having said this lets just take a step back for a moment and play a bit of devil’s advocate. Japan has always been criticised by the world that whaling is inhumane, but let’s just think for a moment for a moment how many cows, chickens and lambs are slaughtered every day for you and I. Can the world point fingers at Japan just because they kill a more aesthetically pleasing animal at a lower quantity rather than cows and chickens???

What Next?

Ultimately, as of December 2018, Japan announced that they would be leaving the International Whaling Commission. Once everything is said and done Japan will probably be back to hunting whales commercially in the middle of this year (2019). It may be a good thing say some conservationists due to the fact that Japan will be exiting the North Pacific and will only be able to hunt in their own Exclusive Economic Zone, if they actually comply with this statement is a whole different debate. Another good sign is that through public awareness and environmental outreach, the demand for whale meat consumption has decreased in Japan from 203,000 tons in 1965 to just 4000 tons in 2015 and that was 4 years ago, it may even have dropped more since then (we hope). This also frees up the (IWC) to focus their attention on other whale issues such as habitat destruction, climate change, ship strikes and bycatches.

I did a small voting poll on Twitter the other day. The question I posed was this: If international pressure made Japan re-join the (IWC), would it make a difference to what they are already doing. Yes or No? 33% said yes and 67% said no. Not the most convincing of polls, but I tend to agree with 67% of the voters. Even if Japan had remained in the (IWC) they would still be carrying out their “scientific programs” and the quota of whales being caught would just increase steadily over time. I believe that with Japan leaving, everything is out in the open and there’s no hiding behind any scientific programs what so ever. In this way nature conservationists and marine experts can concentrate on safeguarding the whale populations around the world.

Whales are incredible animals which need to be looked after.


(Lauer et al., 2016) (Ocean & Whaling, 2016) (Gales et al., 2005) (Anon, 2005) (Gerber, 2015) (Clapham, 2015)

Clapham, P.J. 2015. Japan’s whaling following the International Court of Justice ruling : Brave New World – Or business as usual ? Marine Policy, 51: 238–241.

Gales, N.J., Clapham, P.J., Jr, R.L.B., Gales, N.J., Kasuya, T. & Clapham, P.J. 2005. Japan ’ s whaling plan under scrutiny Japan ’ s whaling plan under scrutiny.

Gerber, L.R. 2015. A deal with Japan on whaling ?

Hirata, K. 2005. Why Japan Supports Whaling. Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, 8: 917: 129–149.

Lauer, M., Collins, F.S., Price, N., Bourne, J. & Monash, M.R. 2016. Japan justifies whaling stance. : 2016.

Ocean, S. & Whaling, I. 2016. Japan’s whaling is unscientific. Science Center, Seattle, USA. 9–10.

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