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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 13:48 GMT
Anger over whale pet food claims
Nisshin Maru factory ship in the Southern Ocean (Greenpeace/PA)
Japan has recently expanded its whaling programme
Japanese scientists have reacted angrily to media reports that surplus whale meat is being sold as pet food.

A UK conservation group said last week that Japan's research programme was landing so many whales, unwanted meat was being turned into dog food.

But the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) in Tokyo said less than 100kg of a species not covered by a global ban was sold to a pet food manufacturer.

The ICR said Japan does not have a glut of whale meat.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the ICR's director general criticised claims made by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and the media's reporting of them.

"This is an indictment on western media who do not question the information they receive on whaling and instead further reinforce falsehoods and wrong assumptions," said Dr Hiroshi Hatanaka.

The angry response follows widespread coverage of WDCS findings that surplus whale meat was ending up as pet food.

At the time, Mark Simmonds, director of science at WDCS, said: "We have heard many arguments from Japan over the years about why whaling is necessary to them, but they have never stated that they needed to kill whales to feed their dogs."

Dr Hatanaka said the meat in question was less than 100kg of small intestine from Baird's beaked whale, a creature not regulated by the global ban, or part of the ICR's research programme.

"To suggest that fine cuts of whale meat from Japan's research programmes are being turned into pet food because Japan has a glut of it is not true."

A global moratorium on commercial hunting of "great whales", including the blue, sei and Bryde's, has been in place since the 1980s.

But hunting them for "scientific research" is permitted under the rules of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The hunting is condemned by most conservation groups on the grounds that it is inhumane, unnecessary and may harm fragile populations.

In addition, IWC regulations cover a minority of cetacean species, and the Baird's beaked whale is one which Japan maintains is outside its remit.

Hunting for science

Where great whales are concerned, Japan and Iceland run scientific programmes hunting predominantly minkes, while Norway lodged a formal objection to the moratorium and maintains an openly commercial operation.

A number of indigenous peoples are also allowed to hunt under tight restrictions.

The sheer volume of Japan's operations has made it the principal target for the wrath of conservation groups.

It latest scientific programme, JARPA-2, will remove 935 minkes and 10 fin whales each year; while its other programme JARPN takes 100 sei whales, 100 minkes, 50 Bryde's whales and five sperm whales annually from the north Pacific.

The IWC obliges countries practising scientific whaling to process what they catch, and the meat from Japan's programmes has always found its way into restaurants.

Last year, it initiated a scheme to distribute whale meat to schools, and a fast-food chain began selling whale burgers.

The WDCS says demand from Japan's human population is running some way behind the recently expanded supply.

The conservation group quotes research showing that the price of meat from Bryde's whales has halved over the last five years, with other species falling as well.

Find out about the different endangered whale species.

Most whale species are at risk of extinction, and last year 63 members of the IWC's Scientific Committee condemned the JARPA expansion.

"With the new proposal, Japan will increase its annual take... to levels approaching the annual commercial quotas for Antarctic minke whales that were in place prior to the moratorium," they declared.

In January a group of 17 countries, including the UK, mounted a formal diplomatic protest.

"The UK is totally opposed to any activity that undermines the present moratorium on commercial whaling," said Britain's fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw at the time.

"We urge Japan to reconsider its position and end this unjustified and unnecessary slaughter which is regarded by many countries and their public as a means to bypass the IWC moratorium."

Japan maintains that hunting is part of its cultural heritage, which other nations have no right to condemn.

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15 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature

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