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One year on – Japan’s return to whaling hurts us all

Whale in a forest

Japanese whalers have slaughtered 223 whales in the 12 months since the Japanese government announced that it would resume industrial whaling, a decision which marine charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation believes will contribute to the climate emergency.

Japan’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (the body that regulates whale hunting) at Christmas in 2018, was criticised by governments and environmental organisations across the world.  Boris Johnson condemned the move to recommence the “brutal harpooning of beautiful, intelligent and endangered mammals”[1].  A year later and unofficial off-shore tallies calculate that Japanese whalers have killed 11 minke, 187 Bryde's and 25 sei whales which, if laid end-to-end, would stretch the length of around 37 football pitches.[2]

“The killing of these whales isn’t just cruel, it is senseless,” says Chris Butler-Stroud, chief executive of Whale and Dolphin Conservation.  Whaling is subsidised by the Japanese government, because 95% of Japanese people have little or no appetite for whale meat.  The industry employs only around 300 people.  This has little to do with tradition or culture and everything to do with the domestic politics of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling party. These whales have been killed for politics.”

Japan’s return to commercial whaling comes at a time when there is growing appreciation of the role whales play in tackling the climate emergency.  Whales move vital nutrients around the ocean, fertilizing the phytoplankton that gives us every second breath we take.

“The ocean is the planet’s second lung, and we are only just beginning to understand how whales help to keep it working,” adds Butler-Stroud.  “The killing of whales is as appalling as the burning of rainforests.  Both harm us all, by destroying our allies in tackling the climate crisis at a time when we need them most.”

The international ban on whaling has been described as one of the greatest conservation agreements ever made.  It followed centuries of slaughter which reduced whale populations to a quarter of what they once were and could even have helped to accelerate climate change.  Most whale populations have still not recovered and continue to face threats from hunting, fishing, shipping and pollution.

As Japan prepares to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, the issue of whaling continues cast a shadow over the nation’s reputation.

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/12/30/not-outrage-japans-barbaric-practice-whaling/

[2] [calculation based on male (i.e. smaller) dimensions and a 90m football pitch].

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