Whaling Controversy Through the Eyes of Japan’s Youth

Written by on June 20, 2009 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law

A new study, published in Marine Policy, by Julia Bowett and Pete Hay, looks at the whaling controversy through the eyes of Japan’s youth.  The article presents the results of a survey designed to determine the attitudes of young Japanese people towards whaling.  Through and online and paper-based questionnaire, 529 usable surveys were completed by students between the ages of 15 and 26 years old from May to December, 2007.  Overall, approval of whaling and consuming whalemeat was the general consensus. 

Blue Whale in the waters off Sri Lanka -  photo: ©Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Blue Whale in the waters off Sri Lanka - photo: ©Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Controversy between whaling and non-whaling countries has existed for decades.  In 1946, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established by 15 states.  The main goal of the IWC was to “stop the over exploitation of certain whale species and to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.”  Later, focus shifted from sustainable use of whales to conservation of whales.  Changes in the public attitude and a decrease in demand for whale products led the IWC to implement a moratorium on commercial whaling.  This moratorium is still in place today but whaling still occurs, making this issue even more controversial.

Pro-whalers in Japan have backed their side of the issue through cultural, social, scientific and sustainability claims.  At the IWC, Tokyo has previously demanded that Abashiri, Ayukawa, Taiji, and Wadaura, Japan’s four coastal communities, be given rights similar to the “aboriginal subsistence whaling” rights given to indigenous populations.  Tokyo also maintains that the hunting and processing of the animal is important to maintaining the social integrity and identity of the community.  The Government of Japan (GOJ) has argued that scientific whaling helps to establish a system for the conservation and management of several different whale species.  Tokyo also says that most whale stocks have recovered enough for harvesting to continue as long as the practice of “full whale carcass utilization” is observed.

Anti-whalers argue the animal welfare and ethical side of things, believing whaling to be barbaric, uncivilized and cruel.  They also point out that lethal sampling for scientific purposes is, in fact, very “unscientific.”  This applies to the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA) that allows whaling to occur in the name of science.

Several authors have noted that the controversy should not be viewed through sustainability but through whether or not whales are consumable resources and whether or not whaling is ethical.  Several surveys have been designed and distributed in both whaling (Japan, Norway) and non-whaling (Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, United States) countries.  In the non-whaling countries the majority disapproved of the consumption of whalemeat and of whaling altogether, even if properly regulated.  In both Japan and Norway less than half the public disapproved of consuming whalemeat and the majority approved of whaling, even if only for human consumption.

In 2006 and 2008, Greenpeace Japan conducted its own public opinion survey.  The 2008 poll showed 44 percent of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the resumption of commercial whaling, with 31 percent “pro” and 25 percent “anti.”  In a different survey conducted in 2008 by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun (ITALICS), 56 percent of the Japanese population supported eating whalemeat with only 26 percent opposed.

Japanese whaling boat in action - photo: ©Greenpeace

Japanese whaling boat in action - photo: ©Greenpeace

This new study is different because most of the previous surveys have targeted adults and very few have included or specifically targeted young people.  The survey focuses on two main questions.  What factors determine the attitudes of young Japanese people to whaling issues?  Of these factors, which make the most significant contribution to the positions on whaling held by Japan’s young people?  The survey was designed to cover a range of topics including cultural, economic, ethical, scientific, and social aspects.  Personal experiences with whale products were also questioned.  The survey also aimed to measure the impact of the more recent Japanese pro-whaling attitudes that have steadily increased since the moratorium on whaling in 1986.

Participants from various universities responded on a 5-point Likert scale (from 2: strongly agree; to -2: strongly disagree).  Demographic information included gender and age group, either 15-20 or 21-26. It was found that the Japanese students did not differentiate between purposes of whaling.  It was also concluded that there is a correlation between the approval of whaling and the approval of the consuming whalemeat.  All these reasons contribute to the current pro-whaling attitude in Japan that shows no sign of changing.  The GOJ has spent approximately 900 million yen (about 5.7 million Euro) yearly since 1988 to subsidize the scientific whaling programs.  Between the money spent by the government and approval of whaling from the youth, much more serious action needs to be taken inorder to put unsustainable whaling to a close.

The 61st annual Commission Meeting of the IWC will take place in Madeira, Portugal, starting on June 22.

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Simon V says:

    An interesting approach. I’m looking forward to reading the paper. Like sex, kids learn not to ask difficult questions about his subject. How does it get to be like that?
    In this article, there is no mention of the economic factor: There are 6000 tons of whale meat in deepfreeze because (as the interim report of the Whaling Commission noted) the market for whale meat is declining, AND last year they let the Icelanders (Loftsson) import some fin whale, which, being the preferred species for eating, reduced sales of minke from the Antarctic.

    If there isn’t enough money in it to support the “research”, how is it ever going to be a commercially viable prospect?

    This is what the Commission had to say:
    See for yourself.