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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 2006: Whale meat "stock pile" and "pet food" propaganda

UPDATE 12/16/2006: My subsequent study of this area has revealed some incorrect statements in this piece, so I've added some commentary below as appropriate, in green letters.

The WDCS recently made claims (later repeated by western media outlets) that there is no demand for whale meat in Japan, resulting in an increasingly large "stock pile" of whale meat. They drew a comparison between a stock pile of 673 tonnes of whale meat in March 1998, and a more recent figure of 4,800 tonnes, at some point last year. Another aspect of their criticism was that they had found a website selling whale meat based pet food products.

Annecdotally, from my perspective here in Tokyo, I can inform readers that there is certainly demand for whale meat.

A restaurant down the road from my place of residence had "whale bacon" at the top of it's menu when I walked past the other day, and last night I was surprised to find that another local restaurant I frequent regularly with friends also has a "whale" dish (I tried it out - pretty good actually - better than blubber, that's for sure).

At this point it's worth noting that the word in Japanese for "whale" is "kujira", although the meaning is closer to "cetacean" than "whale". In that sense, when you are buying "kujira" meat in Japan, you may be getting dolphin meat, or you may be getting meat from an Antarctic baleen whale. Or perhaps something in between. The Baird's Beaked whale for example is considered to be outside the IWC's management competency, and is actually larger in size than the minke whale.
UPDATE 12/16/2006: My understanding here was years out of date. The Government of Japan enacted new legislation regarding labelling so that this should no longer be widespread - these days the product should be labelled with the common species name.

I didn't bother to ask what the whale meat I had last night was, but it was similar to a dish I once tried at my favourite sushi restaurant in Akasaka, which was Antarctic minke whale. Unless you bother to ask the shop staff, you don't know :) I've had whale meat at several other restaurants as well, particularly of note is the famous speciality whale meat restaurant in trendy Shibuya.

So, it's amusing to read in the western media that the Japanese have lost their taste for whale meat. Perhaps the western media and NGO groups forgot to tell the Japanese?

Anyway - enough annecdotes, let's do some analysis of the NGO propaganda. Firstly on the "stock pile", later on the pet food aspect.

Stock piles

In the first instance, to have a meaningful comparison, we need to consider the time of year when the statistics are compiled. The "stock pile" is at it's lowest size prior to the introduction to market of the whale meat from the Antarctic and North Pacific research programmes, which are conducted in the summer seasons of each hemisphere. WDCS acknowledges the 673 tonne figure was from March 1998, which is prior to the return of the JARPA fleet, but their piece suspiciously did not say when the 4,800 tonne measure was made.

Elsewhere however, the Asahi newspaper english edition ran a story, where they stated that the stock pile size of 4,800 was at the end of August, but was down to 3,511 tonnes at the end of December. So, assuming these figures are accurate, in 4 months 1,300 tonnes of whale meat were consumed. Annually, we can therefore extrapolate to conclude that approximately 3,900 tonnes of whale meat is consumed, or more than 80% of the "stock pile", leaving than 900 tonnes in reserve, if no further supply was added.

3,900 tonnes of whale meat consumed a year is almost 6 times the size of the "stock pile" in 1998. Not bad for a nation of people who, apparently, don't want to eat whale meat anymore.
UPDATE 12/16/2006: Actual figures on outgoing stockpile movements can be found in my stockpile analyses. Consumption is actually much higher than 3,900 tonnes these days - since 2001 new laws enabling by-caught whales to be marketed under certain conditions were introduced, contributing to supply.

Additionally, when we talk about the "stock pile" that appears to be larger today than a decade ago, one also needs to consider whether this indicates:
  1. A decrease in demand, as WDCS suggested, or
  2. An increase in supply.
If we check the whaling statistics, which are available for IWC whaling (non-IWC species should be on the 'net somewhere too though), we can see that numbers of whales taken in 1998 and 2004 were not static.

Based on these figures, we can deduce that there was an increase in supply of whale meat between 1998 and 2004, of approximmately 220 whales, or about 40%.

That's only in terms of numbers though - we haven't yet considered the species, which vary in size, that were taken. Naturally, there is more meat on bigger whale species than there is on the smaller minke whales, which are the main target of Japanese research programmes.

So, it is not unreasonable to imagine a 50% increase in available whale meat from the research programmes, comparing 1998 and 2004.

This alone tells us that it is natural to see a difference in peak "stock pile" size between these years, with no relation whatsoever to demand.

We can also consider the "stock pile" size against the number of whales taken, and their weight.

The average minke whale weighs in at 6.5 tonnes. In 2004, a total of 603 minke whales were taken, which would weigh in at 3919.5 tonnes.

100 sei whales were also taken, and with each weighing approximately 20 tonnes each, we have another 2000 tonnes.

Catches of these two species alone already take us close to 6000 tonnes of whale. Of course, a certain percentage of the whale is not put on the market, but still, the figures more than speak for themselves.

Looking forward, from the commencement of the JARPA II programme this past austral summer, there has been not only an increase in numbers of whales taken (almost 100% increase in minke whales), but also a move to target the larger fin whales, of which 10 were taken this season. Fin whales are said to be between 45-75 tonnes each, whereas the minkes are only 5-8 tonnes each. So it's probably fair to assume that with fins in the harpoon sights as well, we're talking about a well-over 100% increase in the amount of whale meat from the JARPA programme that will be available when the meat goes on sale this year, compared with last season. So don't be surprised if you see WDCS or other NGO groups again raise the issue of "stock pile" size. We can fully expect that the peak size will get up around levels of 8,000 tonnes, likely even more.

Indeed, from the next JARPA II season, 50 Humpacks and 50 Fins will be taken in alternative seasons, so the amount of whale meat available is certain to increase again next year.

Depending on how they regulate sales, the Japanese government may finally be able to see the research programmes be fully self-funding.

Simple economics tells us that due to the increase in supply, if demand remains static, or falls as the NGO propaganda suggests, we can expect to see the price of the meat falling in the near future.

If on the other hand, the Japanese government is right that there is large demand for whale meat products, we should see prices remain the same (the government says that were it not for their price controls, demand would see whale meat prices skyrocket)

So it's interesting that the anti-whaling NGOs are pushing the line that there is no demand for whale meat, and that Japanese taxpayer money is being wasted. This is despite previous claims from these same groups that the research whaling is a "thinly disguised" commercial activity!

Personally, I imagine that they will drop this line of argumentation before too long, because it's completely baseless, as I have illustrated above. Indeed if the research programmes do finally start to start recouping costs lost from previous years' research, those groups will likely return to their "research whaling is commercial whaling in disguise" arguments, instead of this "no demand for whale meat" argument, which doesn't seem to have much point to it, other than misleading the public of the western world.

Pet Food

Another line of argument in the WDCS propaganda piece was that there is so much left over whale meat that it is being turned into pet food.
WDCS was shocked to find a website selling whale meat for pets and claiming the products are ‘fished freshly out of the water’, ‘organic’, ‘safe and healthy’ and ‘made in factories where whale meat is processed for human consumption’.

"We have heard many arguments from Japan over the years about why whaling is necessary to them but they have never stated that they needed to kill whales to feed their dogs!”
Again, if one checks the facts, one comes off with a very different impression than that given by the WDCS.

Here is the website in question.

The first thing to note is that the website is not a pet food website. It has a pet food section here, on one of it's pages.

They have even supplied a note in English explaining that product is made from small intenstines of Baird’s beaked whales, a smaller cetacean species which Japan considers to not be covered by the IWC’s competence. Japan regulates the utilization of this whale species independantly, and this has nothing to do with the JARPA or JARPN research programmes conducted under IWC special permit.

Furthermore, humans don’t eat whale parts such as the small intestines, so it’s both natural and environmentally friendly for these parts to be processed as pet food if they can, rather than simply thrown out in the trash.

Mark Simmonds, Director of Science at WDCS tries to give the impression that juicy steaks of whale meat from the antarctic research programmes is being turned into pet food. As we can see, he is simply put, a liar.

The existence of the commercial website site itself is also another example that there is demand in Japan for "kujira" products.

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Hi David,

'Simple economics tells us that due to the increase in supply, if demand remains static, or falls as the NGO propaganda suggests, we can expect to see the price of the meat falling in the near future.'

Really? How very interesting -

'The price for whale meat in Japan has decreased in recent years -- falling to $12 a pound in 2004 compared with $15 a pound in 1999. Demand for whale meat has been anemic. Last year, the industry put 20 percent of its 4,000-ton haul into frozen surplus.
So the government and pro-whaling groups have pumped cash into the promotion of eating whale meat. The government is spending about $5 million a year on such campaigns'

Washington Post
19th June 2005

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