Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Collateral Damage -- Great Whale By-Catch Figures

Apology to readers - this is yet a another post about Japan and whaling. If you are looking for good reads on Japanese politics and nothing else, see Okumura Jun's look at Sunday's election results (Link) and Joe Jones's plunge into what the weekly magazines have been printing about Tokyo Governor-elect Masuzoe Yo'ichi's unconventional private life (Link).

Minke Whale, accidentally drowned in a fishing net, prior to processing. Hakodate, Hokkaido, 2007.

The whale wars go on in the South Pacific, most recently dragging the government of New Zealand into a conflict that inflicts brutal costs on Japan's international reputation. (Link)

Meanwhile, without fanfare or activists with television contracts, a meaningless drowning of thousands of cetaceans is taking place in the fishing nets of every ocean-faring nation. Whatever the figure is, the numbers of cetaceans large and small being killed as collateral damage to the ocean's being strip mined of fish is many, many times the numbers killed by Japanese hunters (I cannot, for example, imagine any whale lasting for long in China's half of the East China Sea). Most of this killing goes on unreported, the remains being cut away and left to the ocean's scavengers.

We have some idea of the level of carnage taking place in the near waters of Japan because, unlike most countries, a dead whale in a  net around here has market value. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries provides a thorough accounting of the sale of whales mistakenly killed -- precisely because they end up in the nation's food markets.

The number of great whales -- whales currently under an International Whaling Commission moratorium -- caught and processed due to accidents is surprisingly large:

Year / number of great whales landed and processed

2006 / 151
2007 / 158
2008 / 136
2009 / 122
2010 / 135
2011 / 126

Over 95% of the great whales accidentally caught and brought in for processing are Minke . Most of the remainder are Humpbacks, with only a rare drowned Eastern Gray, Fin or Pacific Right Whale making its way into the MAFF figures. Sperm Whales, which are toothed whales, are recorded as baleen whales -- the last recorded instance of one being one caught and processed coming in 2006.

The high percentage of Minke is almost certainly due to the huge population of Minke relative the populations of other great whales. Physical bulk also probably plays a part -- large whales like Fins being probably too big to tow into port.

Why are the by-catch figures significant?

1) The number of whales processed as by-catch is larger than the number of whales caught by Japan’s small-scale coastal hunt for Baird’s Beaked Whale, the one big-bodied whale commercial hunt still in existence.

2) While the dolphin meat trade seems a sham, the whale meat trade is clearly economically viable. It is worth a fishing crew’s while to tow a huge creature into port for butchering, using equipment not meant for such an endeavor.

3) While participation in the pelagic North and South Pacific hunts, the small-scale coastal hunt and the dolphin hunt are restricted to a small number of persons in a tiny number of local communities, the by-catch take is national, with whales being butchered and their meat wholesaled in ports in 23 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

One of the prevailing and self-serving myths of the anti-whaling movement is that the IWC moratorium of 1986 ended commercial whaling. Even discounting the pelagic "research" hunts (why no one in the activist community does diddly about the North Pacific JARPN pelagic hunt has always been a mystery to me) commercial whaling activity in Japan simply shifted to non-IWC protected species. As for IWC-protected whales, their meat is being cut up and sold all over Japan, in what is a fairly sizable, if ostensibly accidental, trade.

For annual figures (Japanese language only) for whale by-catch, the form of distribution of meat, by prefecture and species, see:

Later - Meanwhile, from the Department of Unlikely Invitations comes a potentially very stupid proposal regarding Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and the Taiji dolphin hunt. (Link)

Hat tip to reader BF.

Original image source: Stranding Network Hokkaido

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of the heart-breaking pictures you had of the Pacific birds killed by choking on the PET bottle caps. When was that?

The south Pacific hunt is a useful distraction for all parties. The Japanese can tell themselves they are standing up to the foreign hypocrites and the rest of the world can rail against an easy target while ignoring the real problem: a reckless, unbelievably criminal wasteful race to scoop up all the fish in the ocean before anyone else. In other words, what a wonderful opportunity for Japan to focus the debate on preservation and sustainability. Japan could loudly and proudly stop the south Pacific hunt and let Tajii wither away by cutting the fuel, boat, insurance, etc etc subsidies that prop up coastal whaling and switch to harvesting the animals killed in fishing nets. The Japanese could then lead efforts world wide to reign in the rogue trawlers from Europe, Korea, China, the US with their fantastic Coast Guard...
Yes, the IWC is not protecting a future for our children to benefit in some ways from whales but neither are the Japanese. Some form of international framework is better than nothing; at least it is a start for improvement if the whalers and anti-whalers can wake up in time.