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Is Japan's whale trade on its last legs?

January 8, 2009 |  4:44 pm

Greenpeace activists protest the arrests, which they call 'politically motivated'In the wake of the arrests of two Greenpeace activists on suspicion of stealing whale meat (each could serve up to 10 years in prison), things might, on the surface, look bad for the group's goal of ending Japan's whale hunting industry. 

Greenpeace says of the arrests:

The two activists, Junichi Sato, 31, and Toru Suzuki, 41, are being investigated for allegedly stealing a box of whale meat which they presented as evidence.

The box of the most expensive cuts of whale meat had been illicitly removed by crew of the Nisshin Maru, the whaling factory ship, following this year's Southern Ocean whale hunt. Its contents were marked "cardboard" and it was shipped to a private address. Tracked by our investigators, it was intercepted and turned over to the Public Prosecutor in Tokyo, as evidence of wide-scale corruption at the heart of the whaling operation in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Our colleague Pete Thomas at the Outposts blog says, however, that Japan's whaling industry may actually be floundering despite the recent Greenpeace setback. 

Thomas explains:

Said a hopeful [John Hocevar, campaign manager for Greenpeace USA, in an e-mail to Thomas]: "There are several indications that the tide is turning. The scandal over the whale meat smuggling and the success of the campaign in Japan made it necessary for the whalers to hire non-Japanese crew for the first time this season.

"Kyodo Senpaku, the entity set up by the Fisheries Agency of Japan to run their whaling operation, announced that they will be closing their flagship whale meat restaurant for economic reasons.

"The Oriental Bluebird, which the whaling fleet has long used to refuel and offload whale meat in the Southern Ocean, was stripped of its Panamanian flag and fined. And fewer and fewer Japanese are eating whale meat, or in favor of whaling in the Southern Ocean. Commercial whaling is a dying industry, and we are doing all we can to speed along its demise."

What do you think -- are Japan's whaling days numbered? 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Greenpeace executive directors from around the world protest Sato and Suzuki's arrests in front of the Japanese House of Councillors building in Tokyo.  Credit: Everett Kennedy Brown / EPA.

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