Japan looks to South Korea for help in restarting commercial whaling
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2005:
ULSAN, South Korea–Japanese whalers expect a home town edge
when the 57th meeting of the International Whaling Commission
convenes June 20-24 in Ulsan, South Korea.
The IWC meeting will start 10 days after the end of a 12-day
series of preliminary meetings on scientific issues.
“Ulsan is opening a $6-million whale museum this month on an
otherwise dilapidated wharf across from a shabby strip of whale
restaurants,” Los Angeles Times staff writer Barbara Demick reported
on May 2. On an adjacent lot, groundbreaking is expected soon on a
site for a whale research center, which is to include a processing
facility for whale meat.”
“Dozens of speciality restaurants along the waterfront of
South Korea’s self-proclaimed whale capital” sell whale meat, Demick
Retired whaler Son Nam Su, 69, told Demick that hunting and eating
whales is a cultural legacy of the Japanese occupation of Korea,
1910-1945, and that at peak the South Korean whaling fleet killed
about 1,000 whales per year.
Annual South Korean consumption is now about 150 tons of
whale meat, taken from about 80 whales, Demick wrote.
But because South Korea joined the IWC moratorium on
commercial whaling in 1986, Demick added, “the only whales who can
be legally consumed are those accidentally killed in fishing nets.
Before the whales are butchered, maritime police inspect the
carcasses to enure there is no sign of foul play.”
At prices reportedly reaching $120,000 per whale, fishers
have considerable incentive to encourage “accidents.”
“In a petition drive led largely by old-timers in Ulsan,
many of them nostalgic for the city’s past,” Demick continued, “the
South Korean government is being asked to ease the IWC moratorium on
commercial whaling to allow the capture of 100 whales per year.
Those in favor of whaling argue that a whaling revival would boost
the local economy and burnish the image of an industrial city where
the noxious fumes of petrochemical plants drown out any whiff of sea
Japan is expected to unilaterally announce in Ulsan that it
will increase from 440 to 800 or more the number of minke whales that
it kills each year for “scientific” purposes inside the unenforced
boundaries of the Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary, surrounding
Japan is also expected to announce that it will kill humpback
and fin whales inside the Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary. The World
Conservation Union includes both humpbacks and fin whales on its Red
List of Threatened Species. In addition, Japan may expand
“scientific” whaling in the northwestern Pacific, where in 2004 it
killed 220 minkes, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei whales, and 10 sperm
Agence France-Press reported on May 6 that Yoshimasa Hayashi,
chair of the Japan House of Councillors special committee on foreign
affairs and defense, delivered a personal warning to U.S. Assistant
Secretary of State for oceans and international environmental and
scientific affairs John Turner that Japan will withdraw from the IWC
if there is “no progress” this year toward reopening commercial
The IWC put the commercial whaling moratorium in place in
1986. At the time, all whales larger than minkes were officially
considered endangered. Since then, only the western grey whale is
generally believed to have recovered to pre-whaling abundance.
Hayashi told Agence France-Presse that he expects at least
half of the 61 IWC members to back the Japanese position, including
China, Russia, and South Korea.
Hayashi did not mention Kiribati and Mali, the latest of
many small nations that Japan has encouraged to join the IWC by
dangling foreign aid. Mali is a landlocked nation in sub-Saharan
Opponents of whaling have countered this year by recruiting
the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The anti-whaling faction otherwise
consists chiefly of nations with big shares of the
$273-million-a-year whalewatching industry, including Australia,
New Zealand, and Britain.
The U.S. has generally opposed the resumption of commercial
whaling, but not when military considerations have been involved.
The U.S. delegation, headed by then-Vice President Albert Gore,
favored the Revised Management Scheme in 1994 while Gore was also
brokering the sale of $261 million worth of surface-to-air missiles
to Norway. A similar compromise is expected this year, because the
U.S. is relying on Japan, South Korea, and China to help contain
the threat from North Korean nuclear weapons.
“I think that the US position is continuing to change,” Hayashi said.
“Pro-whaling countries may have a voting majority for the first time
since whaling was banned in 1986,” conceded Whalewatch, a coalition
of 140 animal welfare organizations from 55 nations coordinated by
the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Lifting the whaling moratorium would require winning a 75%
majority, but with a simple majority Japan could try to abolish the
The Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary, which Japan has pushed
to abolish, was declared by the IWC in 1994. The declaration
enabled conservationists to claim a paper victory, after the U.S.
pushed through the Revised Management Scheme, which set up a
framework for resuming commercial whaling.
Together with the older Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the
Australian Whale Sanctuary, declared by the government of Australia
in 1999, the Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary nominally puts most of
the southern hemisphere off limits to whaling, but no effective
mechanism exists for bringing violators to justice.
The Revised Management Scheme meanwhile could put Japan just
one winning ballot round away from breaking the commercial whaling
moratorium–not that Japan has ever strictly observed the moratorium,
having signed on late, and having begun “scientific” whaling in
1987. Selling the carcasses of whales killed for “science” is now a
$52 million-a-year industry
The intensity of the Japanese effort to resume whaling is
sustained less by demand for whale meat than by concern that
regulating whaling creates a precedent for regulating fishing. The
Japanese whaling fleet is owned by subsidiaries of the biggest
Japanese commercial fishing companies. They are racing against time
to reopen commercial whaling before the potential market disappears.
The post-World War II generation grew up eating whale meat in school
lunches, but whale meat became too expensive to be a staple food as
whale populations dwindled in the 1970s and 1980s. Most Japanese who
have grown up since the whaling moratorium started in 1986 are not
Trying to rebuild Japanese support for whaling, the whaling
industry is now subsidizing the reintroduction of whale meat to
school lunches in the Wakayama region, where the whaling industry
is based. About 57,900 Wakayama children have been served whale
meat, Wakayama education official Tetsuji Sawada told Agence
The Norwegian coastal whaling season opened on April 18 with
a self-set quota of 796 minke whales, the biggest yet. Norway
resumed coastal commercial whaling in 1993, in defiance of the IWC.
Said Aftenposten, of Oslo, “Whaling was for years a key part of the
national heritage, especially in northern Norway, but it is
questionable whether there is a market for the whales. Whale meat
earlier was a staple in the Norwegian diet, but has lost much
A 16-foot walrus-skin whaling canoe capsized near St.
Lawrence Island, Alaska, on April 27, after the occupants
participated in harpooning a 44-foot bowhead whale. Killed were
Gambell mayor Jason Nowpakahok, 38, his daughter Yolanda, 11, his
nephew Leonard Nowpakahok, 11, and whaling crew member James
Uglowook, 20. Gambell is among 10 Alaskan villages that hold
aboriginal subsistence whaling quotas.