Japan has officially reopened its commercial whaling industry after more than three decades, killing two grey minke whales within the first 24 hours, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The country’s decision to resume whaling in domestic waters defies an international ban on whaling and has been met with strong criticism from environmental and animal welfare groups, which argue that the practice puts already threatened whale populations further at risk.
Fishing vessels brought the two minke whales ashore in Kushiro, a port city in northern Japan, this afternoon. One of the whales measured roughly 26 feet and was immediately sent off to be weighed and butchered, according to Reuters and AFP.
“This is a great day. I’m really happy with the resumption of commercial whaling,” Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-type Whaling Association, told reporters as the whales were loaded onto shore. “We were able to take a splendid whale… It was worth waiting for 31 years.”
Japan stopped commercial whale hunting in 1988 when it joined the International Whaling Commission, a global consortium of governments that placed a moratorium on whaling. But the agreement allowed Japan to continue catching whales for scientific research, such as gathering population data. Over the decades, much of the whale meat from these reputedly scientific expeditions has ended up in Japanese grocery stores and restaurants. During the 2017-2018 hunting season, for example, the country killed 333 minke whales in Antarctic waters, including 122 pregnant females and 50 whales inside a marine protected area.
Japan resigned from the International Whaling Commission last year. As part of its withdrawal, Japan vowed to restrict commercial whaling to its own waters, putting a stop to its hunts in Antarctica and elsewhere. The country’s 2019 quota is 227 whales — 52 minkes, 150 Bryde’s, and 25 sei whales, the Japanese Fisheries Agency said.