World’s only whaling factory ship returns to Japan from North Pacific

The world’s only whaling factory ship has returned to Japan after two months of commercial whaling in the North Pacific disguised as science, capturing 90 sei whales and 25 Bryde’s whales.

A Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) feeds on small fish in the Pacific Ocean, 4 September 2015A Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) feeds on small fish in the Pacific Ocean, 4 September 2015.

In the bad old days of full scale commercial whaling I used to sit helplessly in the back of IWC meetings, watching as quotas for thousands of whales, including endangered ones, were voted through despite scientific findings. Public opposition was blunted by reducing the quotas. “We are making sacrifices to protect the whales,” said the whalers, and bought themselves a few more years. But it made no difference to the catch.

The quotas set years before could no longer be reached. When the quota was 6000 but the previous year’s catch was only 3500, it was no sacrifice to slash the quota to 4000 – the whalers still caught as many whales as they could find.

But that’s all ancient history, right? Well…

In 2014, when the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its Antarctic ‘scientific’ whaling after finding that it was not for scientific purposes, Japan’s North Pacific ‘scientific’ hunt came under intense scrutiny. A gesture was required before it sailed for the high seas. The Japanese government announced that it was slashing the quota from 260 to 115, a reduction of 145, and this was dutifully reported by the world media.

Greenpeace activists greet the arrival of the 'Oriental Bluebird' to Ooi Suisan Futo, Tokyo, with the message in English and Japanese ‘Illegal Whale Meat Not Welcome to Japan’ (2008).Greenpeace activists greet the arrival of the ‘Oriental Bluebird’ to Ooi Suisan Futo, Tokyo, with the message in English and Japanese ‘Illegal Whale Meat Not Welcome to Japan’ (2008).

But it turns out that there was no meaningful reduction. The quota of 100 minke whales was cut to 0, from a previous year’s catch of 3, Bryde’s whales were cut from 50 to 25, from a previous year’s catch of 28, sperm whales were cut from 10 to zero, from a previous year’s catch of one. The catch of the largest and most valuable whale, the endangered sei whale, was cut by just 10, from 100 to 90. The elimination of the minke quota was a particularly hollow gesture; the 2014 hunt covered 3,300 miles, sighting 565 whales and catching 115 of them, but saw only two minkes – one for each month at sea.

So the factory ship is back at dock unloading over a thousand tonnes of whale meat, neatly packaged while the ship was at sea and ready for sale. By concentrating on the largest whales the whalers are managing to make the North Pacific hunt produce as much as their Antarctic venture. But the market in Japan is dwindling as young people turn their backs on whale. Whaling only survives with subsidies. How much longer the industry’s PR will keep it alive remains to be seen.

For decades, Greenpeace along with other conservation groups, has been fighting to stop the hunt. Find out some of the ways we are working to shutdown the Japanese government’s whaling programme here.

John Frizell is a freelancer and former Greenpeace International oceans campaigner

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