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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



Antarctic blue whale increases confirmed again

A paper submitted to the IWC Scientific Committee provides further confirmation of the recovery of the Antarctic blue whale:
Sightings from the IDCR and SOWER austral summer surveys were analysed to provide abundance estimates for Antarctic (true) blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) south of 60°S. The IDCR/SOWER ship-borne surveys have completely circled the Antarctic three times: 1978/79–1983/84 (CPI), 1985/86–1990/91 (CPII) and 1991/92–2003/04 (CPIII), covering strata totalling 64.3%, 79.5% and 99.7% of the ocean surface between the pack ice and 60°S. During the surveys, blue whales were only rarely sighted but were present around the Antarctic. Average sighting rates (schools per 1,000 km of primary search effort) were 0.24 (CPI), 0.36 (CPII) and 0.78 (CPIII). Respective circumpolar abundance estimates were 453 (CV=0.40), 559 (CV=0.47) and 2,280 (CV=0.36), with mid-years of 1980/81, 1987/88 and 1997/98. When adjusted simply for unsurveyed regions, the circumpolar rate of increase was 8.2% (95% CI 3.8–12.5%) per year, although they are still under 1% of their pre-exploitation abundance. These abundance estimates are negatively biased because they exclude some Antarctic blue whales that are north of 60°S, and because a low number of blue whales on the trackline may be missed. Additionally, estimates may include a small proportion of pygmy blue whales, probably less than 1%. Abundance estimates were also provided for each IWC Management Area and for each individual survey, but these have high associated uncertainty.
Here's a reproduction of "Figure 1" from the document, showing blue whale sightings around Antarctica:
From the paper:
Antarctic blue whales were sighted around the Antarctic, thus it is not surprising that the abundance estimates are spread among all of the IWC Management Areas. Highest historical catches were taken from Areas I–III, which have lower current abundances of Antarctic blue whales than Areas IV–VI. However, estimates are highly variable from year-to-year because of the low numbers of sightings, a feature also apparent in JARPA estimates for Areas IV and V...
Assuming this pace of recovery is maintained, Antarctic blue whale abundance will still only recover to a level of 10,000 in 20 years time. Under such a scenario, ongoing (and indeed consensus) protection seems inevitable for the next 2 decades, at least.

The paper also notes that the rate of increase (albeit with the 95% confidence interval of 3.8–12.5%) is close to the theoretical biological maximum. It's fascinating given how scarce blue whales are that they are still able to find breeding opportunities to be able to exhibit such a recovery.

It will be interesting to follow developments as hopefully a clearer picture about the Antarctic blue whale recovery emerges, and any differences in rate of increase in different parts of the Antarctic become apparent.

* * *

The paper was authored by Trevor Branch, who is a leading player in the IWC SC's Antarctic baleen whale abundance estimate work.

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Whale meat lunch revived in Nagasaki

Another spot of news from Nagasaki - this time an article dated the 14th of April from the Nagasaki newspaper homepage.
Whale cuisine revived in school lunches 17 Nagasaki public junior high schools

Students enjoying the whale cuisine in their school lunches = Nagasaki city Sakuraba Junior High School
Whale cuisine is being revived in Nagasaki city school lunches from this fiscal year, and on the 13th, 17 public schools wasted no time in preparing "kujira jaga" lunches using shio-kujira instead of the usual meat.

Amongst Sakuraba Junior High School's first year room 1 class, most students had eaten whale before. However, the experience was limited to special days involving events such as marriage, funeral and ancestral worship. There were also students who were having whale for the first time.

Specially produced Shio-kujira (salted whale), marinated in soy sauce to remove the smell, with grated onions was used. The students at first seemed bewildered at the unfamiliar whale dish, but they ate it happily, exchanging impressions. Ryo Hayashida (12) said "I only have whale cuisine about once a year, but today's menu was crunchy and tasty."

Whale cuisine had vanished from Nagasaki school lunches for some time, with the reduction in whale numbers. The city, where whale is firmly rooted in the food culture, has worked to bring whale meat, rich in nutrition, back on the menu, and this had been confirmed in February. Besides shio-kujira, tatsuta-age menus are also to be prepared.
* * *

A very standard Japanese dish (nationwide) is "niku-jaga" - meat and potatoes, usually using beef. Reading this, I wondered if the dish wasn't originally the "kujira-jaga" dish that is mentioned here.

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Whale food culture comeback in Nagasaki

Way back on the 23rd of February, the Asahi newspaper's Nagasaki edition ran a feature on whale food culture. Finally, here's my translation:

Signs of whale food culture resurfacing

A succession of new dishes, women customers increasing

Gratin, Pasta - speciality restaurant

The momentum of the movement to revive whale culture is building. In Nagasaki, where many whaling bases were situated since the Edo era, eating whale was an everyday habit. There are a range of cooking methods, and even today with a ban on commercial whaling, it is said that Nagasaki prefecture residents consume more whale per head than anywhere else in Japan. Activities seeking to promote the region through the use of whale are also underway. (Gen Okada)

In a corner of the Nagasaki city Tsukimachi market is the "Whale speciality shop Kurasaki". The first floor is a whale meat shop, and on the second floor is a restaurant specialised in whale cuisine.

In addition to traditional dishes such as fried whale, whale cutlets, and "kujira jaga" (whale meat and potato), they are also serving new menu items such as gratin using whale meat, pasta, and whale stir-fried in olive oil.

The head chef, Tamotsu Horimoto (46) says "It seems that whale has an image of being oily, but actually being low in calories and high in protein, it makes for healthy food. It also has positive beauty effects, and lately we've had increasing numbers of young women customers".

Kurasaki has been specialising in whale meat sales, and opened it's restaurant 8 months ago. With whale cuisine having become a luxury, their aim was to offer whale cuisine at a cheap price to familiarize more people with the attraction of whale.

Lunch prices are set at 650 yen so as to make them easily affordable for younger people. Items on the evening menu have also been held down to around 1,000 yen each.

The shop has been covered in tourist guidebooks and now many tourists also have also come to visit. The whale cutlets sold over the counter are also said to be popular as souvenirs.

Revitalizing the region - prefectural government exploring activities

Complementing kasutera (sponge cake) and chanpon (Nagasaki noodle dish)

In a meeting room at prefectural headquarters on the 13th, a gathering of young staff members put proposals for regional development to the governor.

"Revitalising the Shimabara peninsula through soccer", "Revenue securement through prefectural facility naming rights sales", were some of the plans. A group also proposed promotion of the region through Nagasaki's whale food culture.

The 6 members of the group were from the diverse backgrounds of the fisheries, tourism and public works departments. The group's leader, Ryuusuke Tsutsui, belongs to the prefecture's North Welfare Office.

He was taken by the charm of whale meat after having some whale cuisine in Ikitsuki island of Hirado city. Subsequently last year in June, he organized a whale cuisine study group amongst other public employees.

On their days off, they looked into Nagasaki's whale history with the assistance of the whaling association and whale meat dealers, and researched historical sites and records related to whaling, such as Kaido shrine in Shinkamigoto, where the shrine archway is formed of whale bones.

They also studied craft works using whale baleen and teeth, and are now looking at the possibilities for new product development.

Another member of the group, Kimihiko Eto, on loan from the Fukuoka branch of a private travel agency to the prefectural tourism development promotion section. Mr. Eto believes that it's possible that whale cuisine might become Nagasaki's 4th food icon, in addition to the other local specialities of kasutera (sponge cake), chanpon, and sara-udon.

"The people of Nagasaki may not realise it, but whale cuisine is something that other prefectures can't imitate - it's true culture rooted here in this region. When it comes to tourism, it's the 'real thing' that sells", he says.

Movements in the "leading region" of Kushiro, Hokkaido

There's another region that's already been utilising whale culture for it's regional development. Hokkaido's Kushiro city.

From the 2005 fiscal year, whale cuisine was introduced into school lunches, and symposiums along the theme of town renewal based on whales have been held.

Both the coal and fisheries activities that once supported Kushiro city's economy have fallen on tough times. Particularly in fisheries, the late 1980's saw annual landings of 1,000,000 tonnes, but this has now dropped to 150,000 tonnes.

The effects of the decline of key industries has spread to fisheries processing, transportation, and warehouses. Vitality was lost.

In this situation, it was to whales that the city turned it's eyes. The catalyst was Kushiro's coming to serve as the base for coastal research whaling in 2004.

Private sector "brand research", new products - sales nationwide

In 2005, the city, fishery cooperative, fish market and the chamber of commerce and industry established a "Kushiro kujira council", and full scale efforts for town renewal using whales began.

The private sector also acted in concert with the administrative movements. A "Kushiro kujira brand research group" was formed, centered on the city's marine product processing companies, and development of new products began. So far whale burgers and boil-in-the-bag whale curry products have been successfully developed. A brand logo featuring the shape of a whale is being sold nationwide.

In the city's restaurants, an original cuisine contest has been held in response to the city's call to action.

Masahiro Yamanaka, a fisheries specialist at Kushiro city's fisheries section says "We're still only in our 3rd year, and observable results haven't been achieved as of yet, but things are starting to come together, with for example the shopping district independently planning a whale festival. Hopefully the town can regain it's cheer through whales".

Annual private consumption of 300 tonnes the nations' highest

"Indispensable for Nagasaki's celebrations and festivals"

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, since commercial whaling was completely prohibited in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which today boasts 71 members, including Japan, meat from whales captured in research whaling has been distributed domestically.

The distribution volume in 2005 was 5,560 tonnes. Compared with 2001, this is an increase of more than double.

Local government estimates that annual consumption within the prefecture is 300 tonnes, making Nagasaki residents on average the largest consumers of whale meat in the nation. It's said that whale meat for other regions that's not sold flows into Nagasaki.

Koji Hino (76), president of Hino Shoten, a whale processing and marine product wholesale company, reflects on the old days: "After the war, it was said that to build a marketplace you needed a fish shop, a vegetable shop, and a whale shop. That's how common whale meat was in Nagasaki."

There were whaling bases in what is today Shinkamigoto and Hirado city since the Edo era. In Higashi-sonogi town there was a produce handling area, which was a distribution hub for western Japan.

Within the prefecture, in each respective region had developed it's own distinct whale dishes, but as the volume of whale meat in circulation decreased, the flavour is said to have gradually been being forgotten.

The year before last, Mr Hino published "Living with whales", in which he described his personal relationship with whales and Nagasaki's whale culture.

"In Nagasaki, whale cuisine is indispensable for celebrations and festivals. I hope to pass on the whale culture that is connected with the region's customs to future generations", he says.

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Some related links (Japanese)

1) Kurasaki

2) Kaido shrine

3) Higashi-sonogi town

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"We hope to eat whales"


Looks like interesting viewing here for those who understand Japanese.

I've got some more stuff in the works - maybe some news from Nagasaki over the weekend.




Whale meat stockpile update - Februrary 2007

February marine product stockpile figures came out today (Japanese PDF format, Excel format). As always, the details for whale meat are below.

February 2007 outgoing stock: 601 tonnes

Not as big an increase versus the same month last year as we saw with the massive January 2007 figure, but still a chunky 39% increase compared with February 2006.

February 2007 incoming stock: 397 tonnes

Like January 2007, 397 tonnes represents another large incoming stock figure based on statistics from previous years. This figure is 2.76 times the figure for the same month last year.

I'm still not sure about where this is coming from, but last month the Ministry responded to a query I sent them in relation to it. They told me that their survey of storage facilities doesn't explicitly specify what species/products should be classified as "kujira", hence the Minsitry couldn't confirm for me what cetacean species are represented in the stock figures. I'm going to take a look at the stranding / bycatch records (sometime, when I have time) to look for further clues.

February 2007 overall stockpile movement: Down 204 tonnes to 3,161

This translates into just a 6% decrease in stockpile size in February. Even with the 39% increase in outgoing stock volume on the same month last year, the uncharacteristically large incoming stock volume went a long way to cancelling out the effect.
Compared with the end of February 2006, the February 2007 stockpile levels were 263 tonnes (or 10%) higher.

This is likely going to be the lowest level of stock that we'll see over coming months, as the JARPA fleet had returned to Tokyo by the end of March, presumably unloading whale meat by-product into storage facilities before the month end.

Graph: Annual volumes
Outgoing stock for the first 2 months of 2007 is 62% higher than in the first 2 months of 2006.

Incoming stock (for some reason, which as noted above, I've not yet been able to determine) was 130% higher than in the first 2 months of 2006.

Graph: Monthly stockpile movements
With the unexpectedly large incoming stock figure of 397 tonnes for February, stockpile levels haven't bottomed out below 3,000 tonnes as I predicted last month, but with less incoming stock in March/April 2007 than 2006 due to the JARPA fire accident, the stockpile peak size will probably be lower than in 2006 - maybe 5,000 tonnes or thereabouts.

Graph: 12-month moving averages:
Outgoing stock volume continued to increase year-on-year in February. The Nisshin Maru fire tragedy occured in the middle of the month, and it was announced that the fleet would return to Japan early around month end. This announcement may have had some impact on the behavior of whale meat sellers and purchasers in March.

This Incoming Stock moving average should go a bit wild over the next few months, as March / April 2006 saw the return of the JARPA fleet at that time last year.

Graph: Cumulative volume:
Another wrong prediction - the big incoming supply in February didn't see total outgoing stock over the past 12 months exceed total incoming supply, afterall.

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles:
Still, the regional stockpiles march on downwards.
  1. Tokyo wards: 820 tonnes -> 707 tonnes
  2. Hakodate: 617 tonnes -> 518 tonnes
  3. Ishinomaki: 485 tonnes -> 490 tonnes (a 5 tonne increase!)
  4. Kushiro: 418 tonnes -> 374 tonnes
  5. Kanazawa: 281 tonnes -> 267 tonnes
  6. Osaka: 266 tonnes -> 256 tonnes
  7. Shimonoseki: n/a -> 116 tonnes (also increasing, back into the top 7)
That's 2,728 tonnes (86%) of the 3,161 tonnes of total stock held in these top locations.

While the JARPA by-product was apparently to be landed in Tokyo, it'll be interesting to see where it shows up in the stockpile figures next month.

* * *

March figures will be released on May 11.




Wedding photos - sneak preview

The wedding preparations are well underway.

It's not every day you get dressed up in a montsuki kimono and given a katana to play with. Together with a fleeting moment and a camera equiped mobile phone, well, the above is the result...

No injuries were reported (^_^)



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