As Japanese boats head into whaling season, a look at Tokyo’s rendezvous with the controversial practice

As Japan seeks to begin its third whaling season, four boats left the ports from the coast on Saturday. Another boat is expected to join the mammal catch later in June, and together they are expected to catch 120 minke whales off the coast of Sanriku and the coast of Hokkaido by the end of October. Two boats set out from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture early in the morning and were later joined by two other whalers that left Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture. The fifth boat will sail from Abashiri to Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost perfecture, the Japan Times reported.

The island nation resumed commercial whale hunting in July 2019, a day after quitting the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Previously, the country had stopped whaling for almost 30 years when it was a member of the IWC, but had resumed hunting for what it called research. Japan has also been heavily criticized for engaging in commercial whaling.

The rampant hunting of mammals had brought the whale population to a very low level, and as a result, in 1986, members of the IWC agreed to a moratorium on hunting to allow whale numbers to recover. Whaling countries like Japan, Norway and Iceland had assumed that the whaling halt would be temporary until everyone agreed on sustainable quotas, but despite exceptions to the moratorium such that the authorization of whaling or for scientific purposes a long-term ban on the practice. Japan, however, made good use of this clause and killed between 200 and 1,200 whales each year.

In 2018, Japan again attempted to get IWC to allow whaling under sustainable quotas, failing which it officially left the corps and resumed whaling.

After leaving the whale conservation organization, Japan said it would only hunt whales in territorial waters and the country’s exclusive economic zone, according to a BBC report. This meant he would not hunt mammals in Antarctica, unlike he previously was.

The island nation has said in its arguments that like other nations, whale hunting and eating is part of their culture and therefore cannot be completely abandoned.

Many coastal communities in Japan have hunted whales for hundreds of years, but the killing for food increased after WWII.