Financial problems could wipe out commercial whaling
The past few years have seen a sharp rise in awareness, and criticism, of Japanese whaling practices. The Oscar winning documentary The Cove and Animal Planet's television show Whale Wars have brought western public attention to the killing of both large and small cetaceans. Whale meat is sold openly in Japanese markets and caught by a government supported fleet of five ships that operates under the guise of conducting experiments for Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research.
A memorandum passed by the IWC (International Whaling Commission) in 1986 theoretically abolished commercial whaling but allows exceptions for research based killings. Japan technically operates within this mandate. The country has been granted the authority to set its own quota for the hunt and currently, the fleet kills 940 minke and 10 fin whales annually. The ships typically depart mid-December and hunt in a whale sanctuary off the coast of Antarctica. Japan has rejected offers to join non-lethal whale research programmes and stands to make an estimated profit of 100,000 US dollars per year from its catch.
Japan is the main focal point of international attention. Most anti-whaling organisations and movements centre their causes around the Japanese fleet in the Southern Ocean but while the Land of the Rising Sun receives the most attention, it is by no means the only nation involved in the whale hunt.
Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands all continue to catch and kill whales, none of which is for research purposes. Food rather than science is behind the continuation of Scandinavian whaling operations.