The forgotten whales

Posted: 18 June 2003

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaigning organisation, is calling on the Government of Japan to immediately suspend the hunting of Baird's beaked whales in its coastal waters. This hunt has been ignored by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the international community because Japan argues that the Baird's beaked whale is a small whale, despite being up to 12.8m (42ft) in length, and therefore not protected by the ban on commercial whaling.

In its briefing, EIA explains how the Government of Japan uses the Baird's beaked whale hunt to ensure that the skills, equipment and boats required for coastal whaling remain operational in case the ban is lifted and coastal commercial whaling may be resumed.

Baird's beaked whale landing in Irifune Port,Hakodate, Japan (28th May 2002)© Mia Strickland/EIAJapan kills 62 of these whales every year with a number of them being killed using the non-exploding harpoon, which was banned in 1981 as it was considered inhumane. Once the whales are harpooned, they are dragged to the side of the boat where they are tied by their tails and left to die from their wounds, a process which can take many hours.

Mercury in meat

Much of the whale meat from these hunts is sold in cans as a cooked product thereby masking the taste that many consumers find unpalatable. EIA has tested samples of Baird's beaked whale meat for mercury contamination. A whale killed on 28th May 2002 off Hakodate, was found to be carrying 0.87ppm (parts per million) of mercury and 0.39ppm of methyl mercury. These levels are significantly higher than the permitted levels under Japan's Food Sanitation Law of 0.4ppm for mercury and 0.3ppm for methyl mercury.

Since the commercial whaling moratorium was passed, 1032 Baird's beaked whales have been killed in Japan. The IWC Scientific Committee has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of information on the population size and structure of the Baird's beaked whale around Japanese coastal waters. In 2000 Japan stated that it was unwilling to submit its research on this species to the IWC and international scrutiny.

Speaking from Berlin at the IWC's annual meeting, EIA Director Jennifer Lonsdale said, "The Japanese Government should call an immediate halt to this hunt because the whale meat is unsafe to eat, the hunt itself is inhumane and there is little information on the impact this commercial hunt is having on Baird's beaked whale populations. This whale is a large whale and as such must be protected by the ban on commercial whaling."

Related link:

Environmental Investigation Agency