Question & Answer


Q1How many species of whales are there in the world?

There are about 80 species of whales in the world.Below are the population estimates of some whale species provided by the IWC at present.

Name Distribution Population
Minke whales Southern Hemisphere 515,000
  North Atlantic - Northeastern 81,000
  North Atlantic - Central 40,000
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 17,000
  North West Pacific and Okhotsk Sea 25,000
Blue whales(excluding pygmy blue) Southern Hemisphere 2,300
Fin whales North Atlantic - East Greenland to Faroes 22,000
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 4,500
Gray whales North Pacific - Eastern 19,000
  North Pacific - Western 121
Bowhead whales North Pacific - Bering-Chukchi- Beaufort Seas stock 11,800
  West Greenland feeding area 1,750
Humpback whales Soutern Hemisphere - Partial coverage of Antarctic feeding grounds 42,000
  Soutern Hemisphere - Eastern South America 6,200
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western South America 2,900
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western Australia 29,000
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western Africa 9,800
  Soutern Hemisphere - Eastern Africa breeding stock(s) 14,000
North Atlantic - Western North Atlantic 11,600
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 3,000
  North Pacific 22,000
  Arabian Sea 80
Right whales Southern Hemisphere 12,000
  North Atlantic 490
Bryde's whales >North Pacific - Western 21,000
Pilot Whales Central & Eastern North Atlantic 780,000

Q2Aren't all whales endangered?

No whales have ever been hunted to extinction, nor are they likely to be. Out of all of the 80 species, only a limited number traditionally have been hunted, such as blue whales, fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales, sperm whales and gray whales.

When whales were over-hunted, species such as blue whales and right whales were reduced to very low population levels, but these species now have been fully protected for decades.

Japan strongly believes that they should continue to be protected.
On the other hand, there are species which are abundant enough that marine management is needed, such as the Antarctic and northwestern Pacific minke whales, northwestern Pacific Bryde's whales, and northwestern Pacific Sei whales.

Q3Aren't whales supposed to have a high level of intelligence?

Those who assert that the whale has a higher intelligence base their assertion on the large size of a whale's brain. It is simply natural for a whale which has large head to have a larger brain than those of other animals, but that does not necessarily mean that it has higher intelligence.

In comparing the size of animal brains, we should take into consideration not only its weight but also its proportion to the body weight. The proportion of a blue whale's brain to its body weight is 0.007% on the average, as compared with 1.93% for human beings.

The harbor porpoise has the highest proportion of 0.85% among cetaceans. Does that mean that the intelligence of a harbor porpoise is half the level of a human being and that of a blue whale is one hundredth of a harbor porpoise's? It is not necessarily so. It is not possible to determine the intelligence level with the brain's proportion to the body weight.

The late Dr. E.J. Slijper, who was a world authority on cetaceans, said " seems improbable that an animal which propels itself mainly with its tail should need a more highly developed brain than, for instance, a monkey which uses all its limbs so skillfully." On a similar note, Dr. Margaret Klinowska, a professor of Cambridge University and a member of the Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said that "In most species of cetaceans, the brain is neither very large nor especially complex," adding that "whales betray little evidence of behavioral complexity beyond that of a herd of cows or deer."


Q1If whaling is allowed again, what's to guarantee that over-exploitation won't occur again?

Over-exploitation could not happen again because of the stronger regulations and checks and balances that would accompany any reintroduction.

The International Whaling Commission would control whaling if it were allowed again, just as it controls the bans now.

Importantly the reason that many countries were involved in whaling previously was for whale byproducts, such as oil and bone, in contrast to countries and communities like Japan, Norway, the native American Indians and many island nations that whaled for food.

Q2Is whaling still occurring today, even though there is a global ban?

There are three types of whaling being carried out:

Aboriginal subsistence whaling

The International Whaling Commission authorizes this whaling. The IWC now authorizes catches under its aboriginal subsistence whaling scheme for:

  1. Bowhead whales in Alaska(US) and Chukotka(Russia).
  2. Gray whales in Washington(US) and Chukotka(Russia).
  3. Fin whales and Minke whales in Greenland (Denmark).
  4. Humpback whales in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

However, Japan's tradition of whaling is not recognised by the IWC.

Small-type whaling outside of the IWC's jurisdiction

Catches of small cetaceans including Baird's beaked whales, Pilot whales and Dall's porpoises occur within Japanese coastal waters. These catches are outside the International Whaling Commission's jurisdiction. The Government of Japan strictly regulates these operations. Small cetaceans caught either in directed fisheries or incidentally in other fisheries are used for human consumption in many countries around the world.

Whaling by non-IWC member countries

Catches by non-IWC members include bowhead whales in Canada, sperm whales in Indonesia. These countries are not bound by the IWC regulations, as they are not members.

Q3The whaling debate has shifted from scientific discussion to arguments on animal rights as perceived by certain countries and groups. Since most Western nations are opposed to whaling, why doesn't Japan just abandon its tradition?

We cannot agree with this view. Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.

Attitudes toward animals are a part of national cultures. No nations should try to impose their attitudes on others.

Anti-whaling countries regard whales as sacred, and want the ban on whaling to continue on the grounds that a humane killing method is not ensured or that whaling itself is unethical.

But it is questionable whether the whaling conducted by westerners in the past was humane or ethical. To this argument, the westerners might respond that was the very reason for them to have halted whaling.

But this argument is nothing but a misconception. Whaling in western countries was conducted to collect whale oil, whether it was ancient sailing-boat-type whaling or modern whaling. It died out naturally as it lost its industrial importance after petroleum became more readily available.

On the other hand, whaling in Japan was mainly carried out for the production of meat, and because of strong demand for whalemeat in the domestic market, whaling can still continue to be viable.

Not all western countries are anti-whaling although anti-whaling attitudes are prevalent. Generally Anglo-Saxon countries take an anti-whaling position, but Iceland, Norway and Denmark regard whales as food.

Q4There have been media reports of whale meat on the market in Japan from endangered species. What is the situation?

Products from species of large whale other than minke whale in the market could have originated from several sources including meat stored frozen from before the moratorium on commercial whaling, by-products from past scientific catches by Iceland and Norway, stranding, or by-catch.

Illegal catches or trade are unlikely sources since the Government of Japan has strict regulations that prohibits whaling for species regulated by the IWC in compliance with the moratorium on commercial whaling and because the import of whale meat from non-IWC member countries is prohibited by regulation.

DNA analyses of samples of whale products currently distributed in the Japanese markets conducted by the Fisheries Agency of Japan and Traffic-Japan have not substantiated any illegal catches or trade.

Media reports of illegal whale meat in Japanese markets have come from DNA analyses conducted by scientists from New Zealand and the U.S.A. Contrary to standard scientific practice, samples used as the basis for their reports have not been provided for verification.

There are other matters of scientific procedures that seriously question the credibility of these reports. The IWC's Scientific Committee has rejected consideration of some of these reports.

Whale research

Q1Is the research being undertaken by Japan in the Southern Ocean an illegal activity not authorised by the International Whaling Commission?

In Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), the Contracting Parties have an unrestricted right to take whales for scientific research. Japan is a signatory to this Convention.

When the commercial whaling moratorium was introduced in 1982, the main reason the anti-whaling nations gave for its introduction was the uncertainty surrounding the scientific data then available. In other words, they argued that safe management of whales was not possible because knowledge of the number of whales, age composition, sex ratio, and natural mortality rate was ambiguous.

The research catch by Japan was launched to answer such questions and resolve the uncertainties.

Many members of the IWC Scientific Committee recognize the importance of the research, and value highly their results. However, during the past several years, the IWC anti-whaling majority has repeatedly passed resolutions calling on Japan to reconsider the current research catch and insisting that research should be limited to non-lethal methods.

Anti-whaling proponents have tried to label the research catch as commercial whaling in disguise, but this is a tactic to discredit the research effort.

In the research program, the vessels are run on a predesigned track formulated by scientists, and conduct surveys and collects specimens such as earplug and ovaries. After scientific examination and removal of tissue and organ samples, the remains of the whales are frozen and marketed in compliance with the provisions of the Convention, which forbid any part of the carcass to be wasted. However, as the cost of research is expensive, the proceeds from sales of whale meat and parts alone cannot cover the costs. The Government of Japan pays the remainder of the costs.

The research is carried out by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a semi-governmental organization of the Japan Fisheries Agency, established in 1987.

Q2How often is research conducted?

Japan currently conducts the whale sampling research in the Antarctic and the northwest Pacific.

There is need to carry out the research every year as the number of samples collected and the area surveyed by one cruise per year is very limited, particularly given the size of the Antarctic Ocean.

The data necessary for the management of the whale resources must show changes in trends over time. Continuous sampling is indispensable to enhance the accuracy of the research.

Q3What are the types of research into whales?

There are two broad types of research which are conducted into whales. Non-lethal and lethal.

There are advantages and disadvantages associated with both lethal and non-lethal methods. For example, non-lethal methods are inadequate for population research of whales, as well as other marine life, but is suitable for examining whale behaviour in slow-swimming species.

A large range of information is needed for the management and conservation of whales, such as population, age structure, growth rates, age of maturity, reproductive rates, feeding, nutrition and levels of contaminants. This type of important information cannot be obtained through small DNA samples or analysis of organochlorine, but only through lethal research.

The Japanese whale research program has obtained valuable information on whales by using non-lethal and lethal research.It has also enabled us to calculate the amount of fish consumed by whales - which is approximately between 280 million tonnes and 500 million tonnes per year. In contrast, humans harvest around 90 million tonnes of fish each year.

Q4Benefits from Japan's research program have not been promoted so it must be just a cover for whaling.

This is not true. There have been dozens of scientific reports and information made available to the public in brochures on the findings of the Japanese research program.

The difficulty faced by the Japanese researchers is the interest of western media, who have failed to run stories in newspapers etc about the results. The results are available on the The Institute of Cetacean Research


Q5Why does Japan conduct whale research in the Southern Ocean when it is an international whale sanctuary?

It is important to understand that the Southern Ocean Sanctuary applies only to commercial whaling. It does not apply to research. Japan's research catch of whales in the Antarctic is perfectly legal under Article VIII of the Convention which provides that any contracting Government may issue a special permit authorising the take of whales for scientific purposes.

The proposal to establish a Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which abruptly came up at the 1992 IWC meeting, was a political push by anti-whaling nations to put an end to whaling regardless of reason. It was also an attempt to drive a wedge between Japan, which wishes to establish a system of conservation and sustainable use of marine resources in all areas, and such countries as Norway and Iceland that seek to resume whaling in their national waters.

The anti- whaling forces sought to impose a total ban on whaling in the Antarctic regardless of the fact that the IWC has the ability to safely manage the sustainable use of the areas abundant whales including a population of over 760,000 fast-reproducing minke whales. The proposal was adopted in 1994, without regard to scientific evidence that argued against the need for a sanctuary.

The scientific evidence researched by the IWC's Scientific Committee demonstrated up to 2,000 minke whales could be taken each year without any impact on their population. This is the basis on which Japan is making its request for establishment of a commercial whaling quota. Of even more concern is that the creation of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary is the imbalance this is causing to the ecosystem.

It is common sense in wildlife resource management that excessive protection of only one part of an ecosystem, especially the component at the top of the food chain, except when it is at a very low stock level, will impair the balance of the ecosystem as a whole and will invite instability of the resources in question.

International Whaling Commission

Q1Why was the International Whaling Commission established?

The International Whaling Commission was established by the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The IWC's objective is: "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry." However, the IWC is now ignoring an important element of its objective - the orderly development of the industry.

The IWC is now controlled by a majority anti-whaling group backed up by anti-whaling non-governmental organizations, which has lead to various stringent regulations against whaling, one after another, which caused the IWC to deviate from its original objectives.

The most conspicuous example of the violation of the Convention was the adoption of a commercial whaling moratorium in 1982. The Convention requires that all conservation measures shall be based on scientific findings, and the IWC Scientific Committee has never recommended a moratorium in the past.

The moratorium was achieved by anti-whaling groups like Greenpeace recruiting into the IWC many countries that had nothing to do with whaling, thus giving the anti-whaling forces the majority they needed.

The blatant disregard of the objectives and provisions of the 1946 Convention is not only in violation of the Convention but also violates the Vienna Convention on interpretation of Treaties, which requires "good faith" implementation of international treaties.

Q2How many countries are members of the International Whaling Commission?

The IWC was established in 1948 under the ICRW concluded in 1946.

Initially it started with 15 whaling nations but began to give a stronger emphasis to conservation of whales since the 1960s when the Netherlands and the United Kingdom stopped whaling after their whaling industry was no longer profitable because of over-exploitation of whales.

From the latter half of the 1970s, new members seeking solely to ban whaling joined the commission, resulting in the passage of a commercial whaling moratorium in 1982 by their majority vote.

The present IWC membership is 88 nations. Among them, the number of countries supporting whaling tends to increase in these days.

Anglo-Saxon countries, like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have a hard-line policy against whaling.

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