Despite Ban, Japan Slaughters 333 Whales in Annual Antarctic Hunt

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A minke whale killed for “research” purposes. Photo: Kyodo/AP

A fleet of Japanese ships returned home Friday after spending four months slaughtering 333 whales in the Antarctic, a much-criticized practice the government says is conducted for research purposes.

Opponents of Japan’s whaling say the research explanation is nonsense and is used to take advantage of a loophole in the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. While Japan’s Fisheries Agency claims that its research is focused on the reproductive and nutritional cycles of the whales, others say those things can be studied in nonlethal ways.

“Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed,” Kitty Block, vice-president of Humane Society International, said in a statement. “It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.”

If the research excuse is bunk, why then do the Japanese keep hunting whales despite the international ban against it? In part, to eat the meat. But that’s a small part. Whale meat hasn’t been popular in Japan since after WWII, and it’s now more of a novelty than a staple. The bigger part, agronomy professor Kazuhiko Kobayashi told Wired late last year, is that deeming whale hunting illegal and immoral while allowing factory farming and the continued killing of other animals is seen as an unfair attack on traditional Japanese values. So they continue killing whales just to be defiant, as frozen whale-meat stockpiles grow.

Japan Slaughters 333 Whales in Annual Antarctic Hunt