For the first time in nearly 200 years the population of Humpback whales is on the rise again. This is primarily due to the implementation of international anti-whaling laws in 1980 and global warming causing a surplus of krill for them to eat. Unfortunately, this statistic is once again under threat by a familiar enemy: commercial whaling. 

Japan’s commercial whaling has been a topic of hot debate ever since the international whaling laws were first implemented. To some Japanese, it is cultural. Their ancestors had whaled for generations and it is how many fishermen still make a living. While past generations hunted whales for food, today nearly the entire whaling market is sold to the Japanese government for research purposes — something that continues to create controversy. 

As part of its promise to reduce whaling, Japan has announced that they plan to catch only 333 Minke whales, down from more than 900, between the years 2015 and 2027, but say the hunts are needed for collection of scientific data. Once the data has been gathered, the whale meat is sold on the market or put into a food stockpile.

However, Japan was unable to even keep this promise of reduced whaling and recently announced its decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission Inc. and resume commercial whaling efforts. They cited their exit as due to the IWC’s failure to promote “sensible hunting” which is one of its stated goals. Japan will be joining two other countries, Norway and Iceland, in open opposition to the IWC.

Over the years, Japan has seen a drop in total consumption of whale meat among its populace. In 1962, Japan’s populace consumed more than 233,000 tons of whale meat. In 2016 that number was 3,000 tons. In 2005, Japan had so much uneaten whale meat in stockpile that it encouraged schools to serve whale meat to children at lunch, despite findings that whale meat could contain levels of mercury that would be toxic to children. These numbers illustrate a trend, even among Japan’s own population, against commercial whaling. 

Under their new stated policies, Japan claims it will resume commercial whaling within its own international waters but halt commercial whaling activities in Antarctica. While this new position will keep them from hunting in the Antarctic, which is where most of the killings have occurred, it is unknown just how many whales will be hunted in Japan’s international waters since the practice has been banned for so long.

It’s time for us to hold Japan accountable for the senseless killings of these gentle ocean giants.

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