Asia-Pacific

Conservationists warn of extinction risk as Japan catches first whale after hunting ban lifted

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Japanese whalers brought ashore their first catches as they resumed commercial hunting after a 31-year hiatus, brushing aside criticism from activists who say the practice is cruel and outdated.

It was a catch three decades in the making, and when the Japanese whalers brought ashore one of their first minkes after the resumption of commercial hunting, the moment was marked with a ceremony.

The 8.3m whale arrived on Monday in the northern Japanese town of Kushiro, where hours earlier five ships had set out on the hunt.

"Today is the best day," said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association.

"We were able to catch a good whale. It's going to be delicious."

Japanese whalers and government officials hailed the resumption of the hunts, despite global criticism.
Japanese whalers and government officials hailed the resumption of the hunts, despite global criticism.
AAP

The minke was among the first caught in a commercial hunt since Japan resumed the practice after withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission.

"It was worth waiting for 31 years," Mr Kai said.

A strong smell emanated from the gaping mouth of the creature, which was hoisted inside a net from the boat to a truck.

Its stomach had been cut open at sea, mostly draining the blood from the whale, a technique to keep the meat fresh.

The creature was hosed down, then whalers in blue outfits, white boots and helmets, lined up to pour ceremonial cups of the Japanese liquor sake over the animal.

Meat from the whale will be sold mostly at auctions in local markets.
Meat from the whale will be sold mostly at auctions in local markets.
AAP

The ritual is a tradition among Japanese fisherman, both celebrating and purifying the catch.

Meat from the whale, one of two minkes caught by boats from Kushiro on Monday, will be sold mostly at auctions in local markets later in the week, officials said.

"I myself want to eat (whale meat) as soon as possible," Mr Kai said.

Whales facing extinction threat

Conservationists have slammed Japan for withdrawing from the IWC and resuming the commercial hunts, which they view as inhumane and outdated.

Fisheries agencies will allow 227 of the giant sea mammals to be harpooned within its territorial waters, including 52 minke, 150 Bryde's and 25 sei whales.

One of these species, the sei, is listed as "endangered" on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature's Red List, which has assessed the conservation status of some 100,000 animals and plants.

The sei whale is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The sei whale is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
WWF

But Japan contends the practice is a longstanding tradition that should not be subject to outside interference

Asked about the criticism, Mr Kai said whalers were "not doing anything wrong."

"We have nothing to be ashamed of," he said.

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