Real research or sham science? A review of Japan’s scientific whaling

  • Patrick J Robertson Biological Sciences
Keywords: Whaling, Sham


Centuries of unregulated hunting lead to the decimation of whale populations globally. A moratorium on whaling allowed some stocks to start recovering, but others are not as promising. The Japanese lethal research on whales is permitted under the International Whaling Commission’s regulations allowing for scientific sampling of cetaceans, despite the 1982 moratorium on whaling. However, many in the scientific community suggest that the Japanese research is really a front for commercial whaling. The research programs in both the Antarctic and North Pacific (JARPA and JARPN) are not meeting their objectives and non-lethal techniques would be more effective. The Japanese government’s agenda at the IWC is to restart commercial whaling and appears to be actively promoting the consumption of whale meat from the research vessels. Japans internal market is not properly regulated and meat packaged for consumption has been found with pathogens and extremely high levels of toxins and heavy metals. Genetic analysis has indicated whale meat in markets contains internationally protected species, as well as non-whale tissues. Due to the extreme deficiency in our knowledge of global cetacean populations and the lack of infrastructure to monitor and enforce quotas, whale conservation should take priority over premature harvesting or unscientific research.