The killing of Japan's endangered whales

Humpback whale. Altogether, 21 species of cetaceans have been registered in the coastal waters of the Commander Islands Archipelago (15 toothed and 6 baleen whales species); of those, 11 are included in the Kamchatka Red Data Book. 

Japan are killing endangered whale species all while encouraging the consumption of whale meat in elementary schools.

In a bid to increase whale meat consumption, events such as barbecues and food education classes are planned at elementary schools.

Conservationists declared the killing of 25 endangered whales unsustainable and indefensible as Japan’s whaling fleet returned to port at the weekend.

The Japanese whaling fleet, which includes the ageing factory ship Nisshin Maru and smaller catcher vessel the Yushin Maru No. 3 arrived back to its home port in Shimonoseki on Sunday, after setting off in June in a bid to harpoon 25 sei whales - the third largest whale on the planet.

Patrick Ramage, senior director of outreach and programme collaboration at International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: “Whaling on the high seas was an illegal economic and scientific loser from which Japan had the good sense to withdraw. Killing endangered sei whales in its domestic waters is simply indefensible."


Since 2019, Japan has taken minke, sei and Bryde’s whales within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) only, where it has avoided legal challenge, after stopping its Antarctic and high seas ‘scientific’ whaling, which had garnered international condemnation for many years and in the case of its Antarctic whaling, a damning judgment from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 

The Japanese archipelago consists of more than 6,850 islands, making its EEZ among the largest in the world, extending to nearly 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Japan, and covering over 1.7 million square miles. Typically, a nation’s EEZ does not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from its coast, so this gives Japan a far larger area for its commercial whaling.

The whaling quotas set by the Japan Fisheries Agency (JFA) for 2021 are not substantially different from those set for 2020, and include a factory fleet quota of 25 sei whales and 150 Bryde’s whales (with 37 in reserve) and a coastal whaling quota of 120 minke whales (with 14 in reserve).

Since the global whaling moratorium of 1986 and up to 2019, over 17,600 whales were killed by Japan under special permit. During more recent years, this included approximately 333 minke whales in the Antarctic and between 90 and 135 sei whales in the North Pacific each year.


The ICJ ruled in 2014 that Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling failed to meet the criteria for scientific whaling, was illegal under international law and had to end. 

The whaling fleet now targets the Western Coastal population of sei whales which, according to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), is the most depleted of the North Pacific sei whale populations. It numbers only about 400, following catches of over 24,000 taken from this area during decades of industrial-scale whaling. 

For this reason IFAW believes it is irresponsible and unsustainable for Japan to be hunting these whales at all and calls on the Japanese government to end its whaling for good, and shelve plans to build a new factory ship to replace the Nisshin Maru.


“The Government of Japan belongs at the vanguard of international marine conservation efforts. Putting a dying industry on life support, killing more whales and replacing a sinking ship are not steps in the right direction,” Ramage added.

According to local media reports, the return of the whaling fleet will be marked in Shimonoseki on Sunday with an event to promote whale meat.

Whaling company Kyodo Senpaku is expected to auction off the raw sei whale meat at a fish market in the city two days later. In a bid to increase whale meat consumption, events such as barbecues and food education classes are planned at elementary schools.

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Ruby Harbour is the editorial assistant at The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. 

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