| Japanese (日本語)

FAQ on Whaling

April 2009
Embassy of Japan

Q1. What is the view of the Japanese Government on the conservation of whales?


There are more than 80 species of whales or cetaceans in the world. While some species are endangered, others are overabundant. The Japanese Government strongly supports the protection of endangered species such as Blue Whales and Bowhead Whales.

On the other hand, we consider that sustainable use of some whale species should be allowed like other living marine resources that are useful for humans such as fish and shellfish, if best scientific evidence shows that those species are not endangered.*

Although we understand many Australian people do not want to consider whales as marine resources or food, we believe each society should respect the cultures of others, keeping in mind the fact that different eating habits and food cultures have developed throughout history in the divergent environments among different countries.

Link: Whale Population Estimates (IWC)
(http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/estimate.htm )

*Contracting government of International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling including Australia agreed to the preamble of the convention see below that whale stocks were natural resources.

Preamble, International Convention for the regulation of Whaling

The Governments whose duly authorised representatives have subscribed hereto,

Recognizing the interest of the nations of the world in safeguarding for future generations the great natural resources represented by the whale stocks;

Considering that the history of whaling has seen over-fishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further over-fishing;

Recognizing that the whale stocks are susceptible of natural increases if whaling is properly regulated, and that increases in

the size of whale stocks will permit increases in the number of whales which may be captured without endangering these natural resources;

Recognizing that it is in the common interest to achieve the optimum level of whale stocks as rapidly as possible without causing widespread economic and nutritional distress;

Recognizing that in the course of achieving these objectives, whaling operations should be confined to those species best able to sustain exploitation in order to give an interval for recovery to certain species of whales now depleted in numbers;

Desiring to establish a system of international regulation for the whale fisheries to ensure proper and effective conservation and development of whale stocks on the basis of the principles embodied in the provisions of the International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in London on 8th June, 1937, and the protocols to that Agreement signed in London on 24th June, 1938, and 26th November, 1945; and

Having decided to conclude a convention to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry;

Q2. What is the purpose of Japan's Whale Research programs?


Japan has conducted research whaling programs so that we could collect and analyze scientific information necessary for the sustainable use of whales.

In order to find out the sustainability of any species, including certain kinds of whales, we have to conduct scientific researches and, based on the facts, to make an objective analysis among scientists.

In case of whales, we believe the following steps are necessary and appropriate to that end.

  1. Accumulating scientific findings and data related to whale stocks and the state of their ecosystem;
  2. Deriving scientific evidence from those findings and data; and
  3. Developing an international system for proper conservation and management of whales based on the best scientific evidence.

For this considerations, the Japanese research programs have been developed with consultations with competent scientists and conducted in accordance to the Article Ⅷ* of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

It should be noted that while the temporary moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986 on the basis that scientific evidence concerning whale stocks was inconclusive, Japan’s scientific whaling research programs were commenced in order to overcome this lack of scientific evidence.

Moreover, the number of whales caught by Japan’s whale research has been small, e.g. almost 0.1% of the estimated stock (761,000) in case of Minke whales, which indicates Japan’s research poses no threat to whale stocks.

*Scientific Research Whaling is a legitimate right of the Contracting Party.

Article VIII, International Convention for the regulation of Whaling

1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention, any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take, and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. Each Contracting Government shall report at once to the Commission all such authorizations which it has granted. Each Contracting Government may at any time revoke any such special permit which it has granted.

Q3. What is the present whaling research program that Japan conducts, and what are the objectives of this program? Could any scientific findings have been obtained from the previous programs?


On the basis of the scientific data and analytical results of Japan's scientific whaling research program (JARPA) which has been conducted for the past 18 years, the Second Phase of Japan's Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPAⅡ) started in  2005.

JARPAⅡ has focused on objectives such as "Monitoring of the Antarctic ecosystem" and "Modeling competition among whale species” (i.e. Examining a hypothesis that competition for food among whale species could explain the reasons for the increase of Humpback and Fin whales, for the undernourishment of Minke whales and for the decrease of Blue whales).

JARPAⅡ involves both lethal and non-lethal research methods  such as sightseeing surveys and biopsy sampling. More than 100 data items and samples are taken from each whale caught including ear plugs for age determination studies, reproductive organs for examination of maturation, reproductive cycles and reproductive rates, stomachs for analysis of food consumption and blubber thickness as a measure of condition. Results of this research are expected to demonstrate useful facts such as whale stock structure and the feeding habits of whales.

Japan has submitted the results from its research to the IWC Scientific Committee for review every year*. Both the quality and quantity of data from Japan's research programs have been commended by the Scientific Committee**. Moreover, many reports based on Japan's research programs have been contributed to scientific journals*** and are open to the public.

* More than 180 (1987-2006) reports have been submitted to IWC Scientific Committee.
** Please see 8.4 of this report; (http://www.iwcoffice.org/_documents/sci_com/workshops/SC-59-Rep1rev.pdf )
*** More than 90 (1987-2006) reports have been contributed to scientific journals (with peer review).

Q4. Isn’t it possible to obtain sufficient scientific data through non -lethal means?


In order to obtain appropriate scientific data for the proper management of whales, only using non-lethal research method is insufficient and lethal method is required:

While certain information can be obtained through non-lethal means, other information requires sampling of internal organs such as ovaries, ear plugs and stomachs. For example, while the population age structure and reproductive rates of land mammals can be determined by observation over a long period of time, such is not the case for whales since they spend most of their life underwater. In this case ear plugs are needed for age determination, ovaries are needed to establish their reproductive rates, and stomachs are needed for the analysis of their food consumption (whales might have consumed large amounts of fish, so as to give an adverse impact on commercial fisheries and the balance of the marine ecosystem).

Of course, the lethal research method is only applied to whale species which are already determined as abundant, and the small take for research purpose will not produce a negative impact on overall stocks of those species. 

Q5. Aren’t Japan's whale research programs merely commercial whaling in disguise, under the name of "Research Program" or "scientific research"?


Certainly not. As stated above, the purpose of JARPA2 is to collect scientific findings and data on whales.

Although the by-products, including whale meat which remains after the research, end up in the market under appropriate supervision by the Government, it is not a “loophole” but a requirement under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling*.

The revenue raised from these activities is used to offset research costs in accordance with the instructions of the Government and the research program is not in any way seeking commercial profits.

Moreover, it seems to be more appropriate to utilize the by-products as far as possible than to waste them.

*Article VIII, International Convention for the regulation of Whaling

2. Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with the directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.

Q6. Why does Japan conduct the research programs in the Antarctic Ocean?  Aren't those programs in violation of the sanctuary in the Antarctic set by the IWC?


The whale stocks in the Antarctic Ocean were once artificially endangered because of the overhunting conducted by commercial whalers. However, the ecosystem of this ocean is now on the course of recovery, and we believe it is important to monitor changes in its ecosystem and have scientific data to determine the sustainability of certain species of whales.

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary under International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling applies only to commercial whaling. It does not apply to research.

Q7. What is the reason that Japan is going to restart catching Humpback whales under JARPA II, even though it hasn't caught those whales for a long time?


According to scientists, the stocks of Humpback whales and Fin whales in the Southern Hemisphere have recovered rapidly*. Also it has been pointed out that this increase of relatively large whales might have a negative impact to the stocks of other relatively small whales such as Minke whales. In order to manage the whale stocks properly, we need to examine competition among whale species in the ecosystem.

From this point of view, it is necessary to conduct not only non-lethal research but also lethal research about limited numbers of Humpback whales for the purpose of obtaining more accurate scientific data and analysis.

In December 2007 Japan decided to postpone its catch of Humpback whales while the IWC is judged to be moving towards a normalization of its activities.

*Whale Population Estimates (IWC)
( http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/estimate.htm )

Q8. Aren't Humpback whales endangered species?


No. It is not true that Humpback whales are on the brink of extinction, although they had been said to be near the brink in the 1960s. Some still claim that the population of Humpback whales is critically low; however this is not accepted by the scientists of the IWC. The reports of the IWC scientific committee have shown that Humpback whales have recovered rapidly, with their numbers increasing by over 10 percent in the Southern Hemisphere* **.

The number of humpback whales Japan is planning to catch during the current season (50) represents almost 0.1% of the estimated stock (35,500) and Japan’s scientific whaling poses no threat to their stocks.

*Rates of increase of Humpback whales (per year) according to scientists including Australians
- East Australia: 1981-96  12.4%
- West Australia: 1977-91  10.9%
(From IWC homepage)

**Estimate of population of Humpback whales by JARPA (sighting survey)
     About 35,500

Q9. What happened at the collision between the Japanese whaling fleet and NGOs’ vessels in the Antarctic Ocean in early this year?


The Steve Irwin, the vessel belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, repeatedly approached Japanese whale research vessels within extraordinarily close proximity and rammed two of these vessels. The Steve Irwin’s crew threw a number of bottles (presumably with butyric acid in many of them) at these vessels and repeatedly threw ropes into the sea. If those ropes had been entangled with the propellers of these vessels, they might have resulted in a serious situation preventing these vessels from sailing in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean.

            In particular, at approximately 18:00 EST on 6 February, 2009 the Steve Irwin violently rammed into Yushin-maru No3, one of these Japanese vessels, and damaged the left side of the vessel*. This act of violence, which seriously endangered the safe navigation of the vessel and the safety of the crew, clearly constitutes an “offence” under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention).

            In spite of divergent policies on the whaling issue, we believe that Japan and Australia share the view that the safety of navigation, which is directly connected to the safety of human life at sea, must be sustained by all states over the world. In this context, the statement released by the March 2008 Intersessional Meeting of the IWC on the Future of IWC, which has been adopted by consensus, should be recalled. In the statement, calling upon the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to refrain from dangerous acts that jeopardise safety at sea, the March 2008 meeting reiterated the Commission and its Contracting Government do not condone and in fact condemn any actions that are a risk to human life and property in relation to the activities of vessels at sea and that it urged Contracting Government to take actions, in accordance with relevant rules of international law and respective national laws and regulations, to cooperate to prevent and suppress acts that risk human life and property at sea and with respect to alleged offenders.

* Please see videos shown at http://www.icrwhale.org/eng-index.htm

Q10. Why don’t Japanese people stop eating whales?


In Japan, whales have been caught and utilized as food for more than 2 thousand years. The culture of food and eating habits has been formed in the course of history under the specific environment of each country or each location even within a country. People in Australia have made use of many creatures such as cattle, kangaroos and rabbits, or like Hindus, other cultures have never had beef.

We believe it is not appropriate to lightly condemn the behaviors of others as bad, barbarous or primitive, or rather there should be an attitude of respect for the cultures and habits of different cultures.