Japan's Solution to the Global Food Crisis: Eat Whales

The country's whaling association posts a video promoting the hunting of the endangered marine mammals.
Oct 14, 2014·
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

If we want to feed the planet and save marine life, we should kill and eat more whales, according to an unusual video produced by the Japan Whaling Association.

Titled “You’re still against eating whale?” the video was uploaded to JWA’s YouTube site and has drawn the scorn of marine mammal experts.

The animated video, with soft guitar music and narration by a woman with an American accent, begins by warning that the world’s population is exploding while farmland is shrinking.

“The ocean, covering three-fourths of the planet, is an essential source of protein,” the narrator says. “Whaling plays an effective role in solving this problem.”

The video inaccurately claims that since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, “it stopped the commercial hunting of all whales, including those that hadn’t been hunted excessively.”

“Whales are now an abundant marine resource, and they’re causing two problems,” the video states.

First, since the moratorium, whale populations have increased on average by 4 percent each year, the video claims, and whales consume three to five times more marine resources than humans. “At this rate,” the video says, “these marine resources, which humans could consume, will diminish quickly.”

Another alleged problem is that the number of large whales, such as blue whales, has “plummeted” because of overfishing. “As a result, smaller whales, which eat the same food but reproduce more quickly, have increased greatly,” according to the video.

“One way of protecting the marine ecosystem and preserving the balance among whales is moderately thinning them out,” it concludes.

The JWA did not respond to an interview request.

“It’s a repackaging of arguments that the Japanese government has been using since the 1990s to justify commercial whaling,” Kate O’Connell, a marine wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute, said in an email. “The presentation is a bit slicker, but for the most part, the arguments are the same.”

O’Connell said the video was likely produced to foster passage of a food security resolution that was introduced at the September IWC meeting but not brought to a vote.

At that meeting, Japan announced it would defy an International Court of Justice order to cease killing whales in the Southern Ocean. Japan insists its oceanic whaling activities are conducted purely for scientific purposes.

“Japan is trying to push back against the increased international criticism that its whaling programs have experienced in the last year,” O’Connell said.

Commercial whaling did not end after the IWC ban. Japan, Norway, and Iceland still hunt whales and sell the meat. More than 35,000 whales have been killed since 1986, O’Connell said.

The video’s biggest fallacy, according to Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at AWI, is that whales are now abundant.

“They certainly are not,” she said. “Most commercially hunted whales have yet to recover: A few stocks are recovering, but not to pre-exploitation levels.”

“Whales mostly consume species, including invertebrates, we do not eat,” Rose added, “in places where we do not fish.”

Now if only we would pay the whales the same courtesy.