Whaling FAQ
Monday, November 13, 2006
#1: Why does Japan keep up the farce of so called “scientific” whaling? Why don’t they just say they want to kill whales and be done with it?

#2: Aren't Iceland, Japan and Norway whaling illegally?

#3: I heard that Japan has "recruited" landlocked nations to the IWC?

#4: If whaling is a traditional cultural activity, shouldn't whalers use traditional methods of hunting?

#5: I heard that there is almost no demand for whale meat in Japan, and that demand is declining? (NEW! 11/13)

* * *

Many more FAQ's are in the works, and I'll continue to tidy them up and add them, so please come back in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, if you'd like to read some other FAQ's about whaling and whales, here is a selection:
Of course, the very best source of information on a range of topics related to whales and whaling is the International Whaling Commission.
  FAQ #5
Q: I heard that there is almost no demand for whale meat in Japan, and that demand is declining?

A: Analysis of official stockpile figures gives a very different perspective.


In contrast to what is frequently reported in the media, official frozen marine product stockpile figures from The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan indicate that whale meat consumption has actually been rising annually in all years for which figures are currently available. Prices also remain relatively high compared to other meat products.

Furthermore, the majority of these recent increases has occurred within the private sector, as opposed to non-profit activities.


Statements that have appeared in the media suggesting that demand is falling incorrectly interpret increasing peak stockpile levels as indicating a lack of market demand. Demand trends cannot be derived solely by observing stockpile levels, as the peak level of the stockpiles is also influenced heavily by supply.

A noteworthy feature of whale meat supply to the Japanese market is that it is seasonal in nature (whereas demand is more constant throughout the year). Currently the main supplies of whale meat arrive at the conclusion of Japan's whale research programmes, which include lethal research components in accordance with Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The whale meat by-products resulting from these programmes (the proceeds of which are partially used to offset the research costs) reach the stockpiles in early Spring and Autumn, which results in the stockpiles of whale meat peaking at these times. The meat from JARPA typically goes on sale around July, and the meat from JARPN typically goes on sale around December.


The following graph shows incoming whale meat shipments from February 2004 through to September 2006:

* Regular updates to this graph will be available here.

In recent years, total annual supply of whale meat has increased significantly compared to the 1990's due mainly to expansion of research programmes. As a result, frozen whale meat stocks have naturally peaked at higher levels.

For example, the stockpile peaked at 4539 tonnes in April 2005, and at 5969 tonnes in April 2006 - a 1430 tonne increase, year on year. This coincided with the commencement of the JARPA II research programme in the Antarctic during the austral summer, in which the number of whales taken increased significantly compared to the original JARPA programme.

ICR press releases show that 1,895.1 tonnes of whale meat (from 440 Antarctic minke whales) was put on the market following the conclusion of JARPA in 2005, and 3,435.8 tonnes for the first year of JARPA II in 2006 (from 853 Antartic minke and 10 fin whales). The difference in supply from JARPA between 2005 and 2006 was thus 1540.7 tonnes - slightly more than the difference in level of stockpiles for April in each year.

The increase in the peak size of the stockpiles is clearly influenced heavily by supply.

Demand and consumption

Actual demand trends are indicated not by peak stockpile sizes, but more accurately by volumes of frozen whale meat stock shipped out of warehouses, which is an indicator of consumption. These volumes have generally been increasing each year, which reconciles with recent Japanese business media reports of significant increases in sales, through supermarkets and restaurant chains (as much as 50% in some cases).

The following graph showing outgoing whale meat shipments from February 2004 through to September 2006 indicates this:

* Regular updates to this graph will be available here.

From 2007/2008 onwards, levels of supply from research programmes will again stabilise due to the full commencement of the JARPA II research programme, which will cap further increases in consumption.

Stockpile Fluctuation

At the time of writing, the increases in incoming stocks for the year to September 2006 are greater than increases in outgoing stocks by several hundred tonnes. The following graph shows the gap between incoming stocks and outgoing stocks for the year from October 2005 to September 2006:

* Regular updates to this graph will be available here.

As shown in the graph, the gap is 657 tonnes. Put it into perspective, 657 tonnes is equivalent to 7.3% of incoming stocks and 7.7% of outgoing stocks
for the period.

The increasing trend in consumption suggests that by February 2007 the level of stocks remaining in frozen storage will likely be lower than compared to the same time in 2006 and 2005.


Another demand indicator is prices. Prices have come down significantly from their peak in the 1990's when supply was even more limited than at the present time, however today whale meat remains an expensive option compared to substitutes such as beef and pork, despite whale meat traditionally having a "poor man's" image. The wholesale price of whale meat is currently around 1950 yen per kilogram, and actual consumer prices are often 2 or 3 times as high.

Use in non-profit activities

Figures released by the Institute of Cetacean Research show that only a small proportion of the additional whale meat from was set aside for non-profit uses, such as distribution in traditional whaling communities and school lunches.
* Sourced from ICR press releases:
Sale of JARPA by-products (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)
Sale of JARPN by-products (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006)

These figures indicate that increases in private consumption have been the primary factor in overall increases in whale meat consumption, not non-profit activities.


Recent increases in private consumption, while prices remain relatively high, indicate that demand for whale meat in Japan remains strong.

* * *

Official figures obtained from the ministry homepage (http://www.maff.go.jp/www/info/bunrui/bun06.html) used to produce the graphs in this FAQ are as follows:

MonthStockpile size at
previous month end
Incoming stockOutgoing stockStockpile size at
month end
Feb '0420401563871809
Mar '0418091343261617
Apr '04161410542602408
May '0424081032572254
Jun '0422544912042541
Jul '0425415776032515
Aug '0425157637052573
Sep '0425739594033129
Oct '04312912663644031
Nov '0440312563893898
Dec '0438982304943634
Jan '0536341605183276
Feb '0532761563843048
Mar '0530481493602837
Apr '05283720503484539
May '0545391093184330
Jun '0543301453834092
Jul '0540928797454226
Aug '05422613257474804
Sep '0548042104504564
Oct '0545622075514220
Nov '0542201955253890
Dec '0538902476263511
Jan '0635122245513185
Feb '0631851494362898
Mar '06289815398273610
Apr '06361029205615969
May '0659691293575741
Jun '0657411634145490
Jul '06549090517234672
Aug '06467213877855274
Sep '0652746446965222
Oct '0652222334934962
Nov '0649623499084403
Dec '0644033088073904
Jan '07390446210013365
Feb '0733653976013161
Mar '07316121597304590
Apr '0745902784644404
* all figures in tonnes

Sunday, June 25, 2006
  FAQ #4
Q: If whaling is a traditional cultural activity, shouldn't whalers use traditional methods of hunting?

A: It is certainly true that today, with modern purpose built whaling ships and deck-mounted harpoons, humans have greater potential to deplete whale stocks than when using rudimentary methods involving canoes and hand thrown spears.

However, possessing this potential does not mean that humans will necessarily exploit it. This applies to a range of activities besides whaling in which humans have made technological advancements, enabling us to do greater damage to the environment than before.

Moreover, it is important to recognize that simply using rudimentary hunting methods alone will not ensure that resource use is sustainable. In New Zealand for example, it is believed that the Moa, the world's largest flightless bird, was hunted to extinction by the indigenous Maori people. There are numerous other examples.

What having greater hunting efficiency through advanced technology necessitates is that
a) sustainable levels of resource use (catch limits) must be identified through science, and
b) regulations are put in place to ensure that these scientifically determined levels of use are not exceeded.
These basic ideas are how governments around the world are managing other types of resource use such as fisheries on a sustainable basis.

Indeed, scientific advances actually aid humans in more accurately determining sustainable levels as well as providing technologies with which operations can be regulated (for example, satellite vessel monitoring, and DNA techniques for verifying the source of whale meat).

Another important aspect of advances in hunting efficiency is that it can aid humans in bringing about more rapid death than was possible in the past. Time-To-Death and Instantaneous Death Ratio statistics from Norwegian commercial whaling operations are orders of magnitude better than statistics from more traditional hunts conducted in places such as Greenland. Modern techniques should therefore be considered more humane.

Overall, technological advancements are clearly advantageous in terms of ensuring whale resource use is sustainable, as well as in leading to faster deaths for the individual whales that are taken.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
  FAQ #3
Q: I heard that Japan has "recruited" landlocked nations to the IWC?

A: As of June 2006, currently 9 landlocked nations are signatory to the IWC. They are Austria, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, Mali, Mongolia, San Marino, Slovakia, and Switzerland.

Of these 9 nations, 7 of them - Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, San Marino, Slovakia, and Switzerland - all voted against the pro-sustainable use nations at the IWC plenary held in June 2006. Only Mongolia and Mali voted with the pro-sustainable use nations.

The dates on which these nations joined the IWC are as follows.

1980, 29-May - Switzerland
1994, 20-May - Austria
2002, 16-Apr - San Marino
2002, 16-May - Mongolia
2004, 1-May - Hungary
2004, 17-Aug - Mali
2005, 26-Jan - Czech Republic
2005, 22-Mar - Slovakia
2005, 10-Jun - Luxembourg

Anti-whaling nations and anti-use NGOs are quick to criticise Mongolia and Mali's participation at the IWC, yet they never mention the fact that the anti-whaling bloc had already been "recruiting" landlocked European nations to the IWC as many as 22 years before Mongolia joined.
Indeed, if none of these 9 landlocked nations were IWC members, the nations in favour of sustainable use would have easily won most if not all of the votes at the IWC 58 meeting in held in June 2006.

* 24 June 2006: Updated to reflect voting behaviour at IWC 58
Saturday, April 22, 2006
  FAQ #2
Q: Aren't Iceland, Japan and Norway whaling illegally?

A: No, the whaling activities of all three nations are within the rules of the IWC.

The claim of illegality is usually made in reference to the IWC's zero catch limit (moratorium on commercial whaling), which has been in place since 1986.

Norway is the only nation currently conducting commercial whaling. Norway's whaling is legal because Norway lodged an objection to the introduction of the zero catch limit in accordance with the provisions of Article V, para 3 of the ICRW, and are thus not bound by it.

Iceland and Japan both conduct scientific hunts, which are allowed for regardless of Schedule amendments such as the zero catch limit, as stated in Article VIII of the ICRW. As well as allowing for scientific whaling permits to be granted, Article VIII also recognises that as
"continuous collection and analysis of biological data in connection with the operations of factory ships and land stations are indispensable to sound and constructive management of the whale fisheries, the Contracting Governments will take all practicable measures to obtain such data."
Thus, not only is scientific whaling legally permitted, it's expressly encouraged by the ICRW. It's remarkable that Japan and Iceland are accused of illegal whaling despite the fact that the convention under which whaling is carried out is so unambiguous on this point.

Traditionally the claim of illegal whaling has been made by both anti-whaling governments and anti-whaling NGOs, but in recent times governments have dropped this rhetoric from their repertoire.

Officials from two of the most fanatical anti-whaling nations, Australia and New Zealand, have been reported as conceeding that, although having explored various options, legal challenges against research whaling would fail.

After the 2006 IWC meeting held in St. Kitts and Nevis, Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell again conceeded this:
"New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom have all looked at legal options and we have all independently come to the same conclusion – at the moment it is not likely to be successful. Indeed it could be counterproductive and may even backfire."

* [June 25 2006] Added Ian Campbell concession
  FAQ #1
Q: Why does Japan keep up the farce of so called “scientific” whaling? Why don’t they just say they want to kill whales and be done with it?

A: Japan does indeed wish to resume commercial whaling, in accordance with the provisions of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), and makes no secret of the fact.

Put simply, Japan's research includes the objective to improve scientific understanding of whale stocks, which would facilitate higher catch limits (without increasing the risk of depleting the stock) than would otherwise be possible under the IWC's existing catch limit setting procedure.

In more detail, some background information:
This is where Japan’s research programmes come into the picture. One objective of the original JARPA research was "Estimation of biological parameters", uncertainty about which had been a subject of dispute in the IWC Scientific Commitee. Later a further objective to elucidate "stock structure of the Southern Hemisphere minke whales to improve stock management" was added.

In 1997, the IWC Scientific Committee reviewed the original JARPA programme at its half-way point and confirmed that the JARPA programme did indeed have the potential to improve on the RMP procedure in a number of ways. Full details of the review are available here.

Indeed the Japanese government's primary interest is in making for the acquisition of whale meat, but not only that, it is interested in making for higher catch limits through improved scientific understanding. These goals are entirely consistent with the ICRW text, which states that catch limits should be set in such a way as to "provide for the conservation, development, and optimum utilization of the whale resources", in addition to being "based on scientific findings" (Article V, para 2).

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