BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Science/Nature  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
A clash of culinary cultures
Old Japanese painting of medieval whaling expedition
The Japanese have been whaling since the 10th Century

Many cultural barriers between Japan and the West were torn down during last month's World Cup - but on the issue of whaling, the differences remain.


Technology has improved and nowadays 60% of whales die instantly and the average time of death is two-and-a-half minutes

Dr Seiji Ohsumi
Institute of Cetacean Research
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 and in May the Japanese failed to have it lifted during the IWC's annual meeting in Shimonoseki.

From the viewpoint of many foreigners, or gaijin, it seems a barbaric and totally unnecessary trade akin to killing elephants or giraffes.

But few people in the West have ever heard the Japanese side of the story.

I went to Japan to find out why the Japanese are so determined to resume the large-scale slaughter of these huge and seemingly harmless creatures.

Food chain

The Japan Whaling Association (JWA) and the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) are housed in the same building in a harbourside suburb of Tokyo.

Whale's stomach cut open to reveal thousands of fish
This whale's stomach contained thousands of Pacific saury ŠICR
Shigeko Misaki is an adviser to the JWA and the co-author of The Truth Behind The Whaling Dispute.

In the late 1940s, her father was the Minister of Agriculture and one of the men who persuaded the Supreme Commander of the US Occupation Forces, Douglas MacArthur, to allow the Japanese to resume whaling to alleviate the post-war food crisis.

She says the position held by most anti-whaling campaigners is ridiculous.

"Why should one particular species be excluded from the food chain?" she argues.

Ancient industry

The Japanese have been carrying out organised ocean whaling since the 10th Century and there are cave drawings dating back 5,500 years showing people of the Japanese islands hunting offshore whales with spears.


It is often very difficult to say with any certainty what is happening to a given whale population because of the inherent difficulties in counting whales

Richard Page
Greenpeace
Ms Misaki says it is simply Western cultural prejudice which prevents Japan from resuming whaling.

"If I ate my cat or my dog then I would feel disgusted but in Korea people eat dogs and in places like Tanzania people do not eat lobsters or shrimps.

"In India, most people do not eat cows on religious grounds but you don't see India trying to tell the US not to eat beef," she says.

'Criticism is not racism'

A spokesman for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), Victoria Reinthal, said the Japanese often used the cultural argument to prevent criticism of their whaling.

Shigeko Misaki pictured in his office in Tokyo
Shigeko Misaki pictured with a rifle used to hunt whales
"They try to equate criticism of whaling with racism directed at Japanese people in general," she said.

Miss Reinthal told BBC News Online: "If whales belong to anyone then they belong to everyone.

"It is not just Japan that WDCS and others have an issue with, but with Norway and anyone that seeks to commercially exploit these creatures."

Ms Misaki says the populations of most whale species have recovered in the last 16 years and there is even evidence that whales need to be culled in certain areas because they are affecting fish stocks.

'Ocean competitors'

Dr Seiji Ohsumi, director general of the ICR, says it is a myth that whales eat only plankton and krill, the tiny shrimp-like creatures which inhabit the oceans of the Antarctic and South Pacific.

He points to photographs taken by ICR personnel of the stomach contents of whales caught under the IWC's scientific clause.

"In Japanese coastal waters, we have discovered that they eat many other species, including pollock, squid and saury, which are very important to Japanese fishermen.

"It has been proved that in fishing areas whales invade and catch those species which would otherwise be caught by Japanese fishermen," says Dr Ohsumi.

Minke whales have been known to break into fishermen's nets and eat their fish, he says.

A Japanes government leaflet about whales designed for children
This leaflet was used to "educate" Japanese children about whales
He says whaling is actually much more environmentally friendly than beef farming.

"Large areas of the Brazilian rain forest have had to be cleared to allow space for grazing the cattle which supply the beef to the fast-food chains.

"Cattle provide huge emissions of methane which are harmful to the environment.

"By comparison, there is an abundant population of whales who inhabit the three-quarters of the globe which is covered by water," said Dr Ohsumi.

'Still declining'

He accepts that some cetacean species are still endangered and lists the Yangtze River Dolphin in China, the Harbour Porpoise in the North Pacific and the northern right whale off the East Coast of the US.

But he says many cetaceans are abundant and claims there are around two million sperm whales worldwide.

Greenpeace disputes many of the Japanese claims.

Dr Seiji Ohsumi in his office in Tokyo
Dr Seiji Ohsumi, pictured at his office in Tokyo
Spokesman Richard Page says: "Although a few whale populations are recovering from decades or centuries of over-exploitation, others have shown little or no signs of recovery and may still be declining.

"For instance, the Antarctic blue whales were thought to number around 250,000 prior to commercial hunting but now there are only 1,000 left and show little sign of recovery despite being completely protected since the 1960s."

He adds: "It is often very difficult to say with any certainty what is happening to a given whale population because of the inherent difficulties in counting whales."

'Double crossed'

Ms Misaki says the US double-crossed Japan in 1986.

"Under IWC rules, a member country can exempt itself by objecting to a decision it considers unreasonable.

"When the moratorium was introduced, Japan, like Norway, lodged an objection.

Graph showing the balance of power between pro-, anti- and neutral nations in IWC
Anti-whaling (blue) countries outnumber pro-whaling (yellow) nations in the IWC
"But the US threatened to cancel a quota system which allowed Japanese fishermen to catch deep water fish, such as pollock and flounder, up to 200 nautical miles from the US coast.

"This catch was worth 10 times as much as the whaling industry at the time so Japan cancelled its objection.

"But the US double-crossed us and two years later they excluded Japanese fishermen anyway." By then it was too late to object.

Dr Ohsumi also disputes claims by anti-whaling campaigners that the killing process is long and cruel.

"Many years ago whales used to suffer for a long time. But technology has improved and nowadays 60% of whales die instantly and the average time of death is two-and-a-half minutes," he says.

See also:

17 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Science/Nature stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Science/Nature stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes