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Japan’s Seafood Tastes Threaten Whales, Tuna

Tokyo, Japan —(Map)

Whales and tuna have been fished so much that, unless their numbers are allowed to grow again, there may one day be nothing left to hunt. Still, Japan keeps hunting these animals.

Tuna

Sushi is a popular food in Japan. It’s made of seaweed, rice, and, usually, seafood. Pacific bluefin tuna is a fish commonly used in sushi. Pacific bluefin tuna are huge, fast swimmers.

Sushi Maki
Sushi is a popular food in Japan. It’s made of seaweed, rice, and, usually, seafood. Pacific bluefin tuna is a fish commonly used in sushi.
(Source: Japan Sushi – www.japansushi.no [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.)

On January 5, the owner of a Japanese sushi company set a record by paying $3.1 million for a single bluefin tuna. The tuna he bought weighed 612 pounds (278 kilograms).

End of auction of fresh tuna at the Tsukiji fish market. Please notice the tails are cut off, to allow examination of the meat, and the inserted into the gills. Also, various labels applied to the fish.
On January 5, the owner of a Japanese sushi company set a record by paying $3.1 million for a single bluefin tuna. This is a picture of a famous tuna market in Tokyo.
(Source: Cafe Nervosa [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.)

There’s a sad story behind this news. Bluefin tuna have been almost wiped out. There used to be great numbers of bluefin tuna. Now these numbers have dropped by 96%. That’s a huge change. Imagine a school with 1,000 students. What would school be like if only 40 students showed up?

Pacific bluefin tuna at Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo, Japan
Pacific bluefin tuna are huge, fast swimming fish that have been almost completely wiped out. About 80% of the bluefin tuna caught in the world is sold to Japan.
(Source: aes256 [CC BY 2.1 jp], via Wikimedia Commons.)

About 80% of the bluefin tuna caught in the world is sold to Japan. The Japanese know there is a problem. In 2017, the country came up with a plan to limit fishing to increase the numbers of bluefin tuna. But some groups are already protesting the fishing limits.

As the price of tuna goes up, people who fish for a living have even more reason to catch more tuna than they should.

Whales

Hunting whales has long been important in Japan. Japanese people used to eat lots of whale meat. But today, whale meat is not so popular. In 2016, Japanese people ate just 1% of the amount of whale meat they ate in the 1960s. Still, Japan is eager to hunt whales.

Whale meat at the Tsukiji fish market
Japanese people used to eat lots of whale meat. But today, whale meat is not so popular. In 2016, Japanese people ate just 1% of the amount of whale meat they ate in the 1960s.
(Source: Stefan Powell [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Like tuna, there used to be great numbers of whales. But many kinds of whales were hunted until there were almost none left. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was created to protect whales. This group has members from almost 90 different countries.

In 1982, the IWC said it was against the law to hunt whales for money. Some whale hunting was allowed if it was for science. Since the law was made, the numbers of many kinds of whales have grown, and whales are doing much better.

A whale is captured by the Yushin Maru, a Japanese harpoon vessel. This image was taken by Australian customs agents in 2008, under a surveillance effort to collect evidence of indiscriminate harvesting, which is contrary to Japan's claim that they are collecting the whales for the purpose of scientific research. In 2010, Australia filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice hoping to halt Japanese whaling; this photograph will undoubtedly play a key role in that pending case.
As a member of IWC, Japan said it only hunted whales for science. Most other countries think Japan was really hunting whales to sell the meat. This picture of a Japanese ship with a dead whale was taken in 2008.
(Source: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service [CC BY-SA 3.0 au], via Wikimedia Commons .)

As a member of IWC, Japan said it only hunted whales for science. Most other countries think Japan was really hunting whales to sell the meat. Last winter, Japan upset many people by killing 333 minke whales near Antarctica for “research”. Many of the whales were young, and 122 of the whales were pregnant mothers.

Last month, Japan left the IWC, saying that it would start hunting whales for money again. Japan has said it won’t hunt near Antarctica anymore. It will only hunt for whales in oceans near Japan.

A minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
Last winter, Japan killed 333 minke whales near Antarctica for “research”. Many of the whales were young, and 122 of the whales were pregnant mothers.
(Source: NOAA , via Wikimedia Commons.)

Some people are glad Japan left the IWC because now it is clear that Japan is hunting whales for money. Others believe it would be better if Japan was still talking to other countries about how to protect whales.

Japan is not the only country that is “pirate whaling”. Norway and Iceland also hunt whales for money.

Tokyo, Japan


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