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As Japanese Boats Set Sail for Whaling Season, a Look at Tokyo's Trysts With the Controversial Practice

File photo: A captured Minke whale is unloaded after commercial whaling at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan.  (Credit: REUTERS)

File photo: A captured Minke whale is unloaded after commercial whaling at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan. (Credit: REUTERS)

Japan restarted hunting whales for commercial purposes in July of 2019 a day after it quit the International Whaling Commission(IWC). Prior to this, the country had stopped whaling commercially for almost 30 years.

As Japan looks to begin its third whaling season, four boats left the ports from the coasts on Saturday. Another boat is expected to join in for the catching of the mammals later in June and together they are expected to catch 120 minke whales off the Sanriku Coast and Hokkaido coast by late October. Two boats started from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture early in the morning and they were later joined by two other whaling vessels who left from Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture. The fifth boat will start from Abashiri in Hokkaido, Japan’s northermost perfecture, Japan Times reported.

The island nation restarted hunting whales for commercial purposes in July of 2019 a day after it quit the International Whaling Commission(IWC). Prior to this, the country had stopped whaling commercially for almost 30 years when it was a member of the IWC but restarted the hunt for what it called research. Japan has also been heavily criticised for indulging in commercial whaling.

The rampant hunting of the mammals had brought the whale population very low and thus in 1986, IWC members agreed to a hunting moratorium to allow whale numbers to recover. Whaling countries like Japan, Norway and Iceland had assumed the halt at hunting would be temporary until everyone agreed on the sustainable quotas but despite being exceptions made to the moratorium such as allowing indigenous groups to carry out whaling or for scientific purposes, it ended up being a long term ban on the practice. Japan, however made good use of the clause and has killed between 200 to 1,200 whales each year.

In 2018 Japan had again tried to coax IWC to allow whaling under sustainable quotas, failing which it officially left the body and resumed whaling again.

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After leaving the whale conservation body, Japan has said that it would only hunt whales within the country’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, a report in BBC said. This meant that it will not be hunting the mammals in the Antarctic, unlike before.

The island nation has said in its arguments that like other nations, hunting and eating of the whales have been a part of their culture and thus not possible for them to forsake it totally.

Many coastal communities in Japan have hunted whales for hundreds of years but the killing for food increased after World War II.