Feature

Why Japan insists on hunting whales

Any day now, fishermen on Japan

Peter HellerLos Angeles Times

Any day now, fishermen on Japan’s Nisshin Maru will start slaughtering whales, said Peter Heller. The factory ship is headed to the coast of Antarctica, where its crew hopes to kill 50 endangered fin whales and 50 humpback whales, ostensibly in the name of “research.” The International Whaling Commission has objected to similar hunts more than 20 times; in defiance, the Japanese have killed 25,000 whales, then sold their meat commercially. Why do the Japanese insist on hunting this “social and charismatic species”? It’s not, as their government contends, to preserve a long-standing cultural tradition: Only 1 percent of Japanese regularly eat whale meat. Japan conducts these whale hunts only to show that it will not be bound by international restrictions on any kind of fishing. Overfishing has already badly depleted the oceans, and there is now talk of international bans on such popular species as tuna, marlin, and swordfish. That prospect puts the Japanese “in a deperate position,’’ since they depend on seafood for 40 percent of their protein. They’re slaughtering whales not for food, or for research, but as a symbolic statement: Don’t tell us what we can take from the oceans.

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