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Whale hunts by Japan are supported primarily by older consumers

January 12, 2009 |  2:16 pm

Japanese businessmen sample whale meat during lunch at a Tokyo restaurant in 2007.

While surfing the Net on Japan news, a headline in the Mainichi Daily News caught my eye: "Protests or not, Japan keeps eating whale."

As you know, Outposts has been touching on Japan's controversial whale hunt (conducted annually, in the name of research) and on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's controversial whale hunt disruption (conducted annually, in the name of whale protection).

The story implied that whale meat is still popular among older Japanese, and that many of them believe Japan should be able to hunt whales in a sustainable manner.

The story quoted one proprietor, whose Tokyo restaurant specializes in whale, as saying, "Why do people say we can't eat the things we've eaten since the end of World War II?"

The restaurateur conceded that most of his customers are in their 40s or older.

They're in support of Japan's right to harvest minke whales for research, while most outside observers believe there's no meaningful research taking place and that the research "loophole" in international law is merely being used by Japan to conduct commercial hunts each year when the whales are summering in the Antarctic.

Japan this season plans to kill 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales (minke whales are not endangered, fin whales are). Its research, in part, is to prove the fishery is sustainable in hopes the whaling ban will someday be lifted.

Interestingly, though, Japan's whaling industry admittedly barely turns a profit, and with the younger generation increasingly favoring red meat, poultry and fish, the profit margin will shrink further in years to come.

So what's the point in continuing? Tradition? Culture? Stubbornness? Japan has its reasons, which are difficult for many Westerners to understand.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Japanese businessmen sample whale meat during lunch at a Tokyo restaurant in 2007. Credit: Associated Press