In 2019, Japan took down 331 whales through commercial whaling, a decrease compared to 640 hunted whales in the previous year.
Whaling in Japan is subsidized by the government and was conducted under the scientific research provision in agreement with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) up until mid-2019. After withdrawing from the IWC, Japan resumed commercial whaling in its territorial waters.
Japan’s whaling history
Japan looks back on a long history of hunting whales across its shores. According to archaeological finds, hard-harpooning whaling started in 12th century Japan and organized offshore hunts emerged four centuries later. Traditional whaling was limited to a few coastal areas and served as a subsistence purpose for seaside villages. Modern-day, industrial whale hunts conducted by Japanese vessels expanded rapidly outside the country’s territorial waters and whale sanctuaries protected by other nations were disregarded.
Japan’s Antarctic whaling program was declared illegal by the UN Court of Justice in 2014. In response, the Japanese government announced their withdrawal from the IWC to resume commercial whaling in the country's territorial waters. However, Japanese vessels continued to hunt in domestic waters as well as in Antarctica, allowing the hunt of three species.
The future of whaling in Japan
Large scale, commercial whaling in Japan expanded after World War II when the country’s supply of animal protein was low. As an island nation, the Japanese fishing industry serves as a major supplier for the country’s animal product demand. In contemporary Japan, however, whale meat became a niche product. As eating habits change, awareness of sustainable fishing rises among Japanese consumers. It may be a slow shift, but the Japanese whaling industry might become extinct due to a disappearing demand in its home market.
Number of whales hunted in Japan from 2010 to 2019
*According to the source, Japanese whaling was carried out under Article VIII ('scientific whaling') since 1988. In 2014 however, the UN's International Court of Justice determined that Japan's Antarctic whaling was commercial and therefore illegal. In 2018, the Japanese government withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to officially resume commercial whaling in Japanese waters.
Figures include minke, fin, sei, Bryde's, and sperm whales.
The source does not provide a publication date. Date mentioned here is the day of data access.