Two different news stories were released today based on the results of a survey to determine the Japanese public’s feelings over the nation’s whaling program. One frames its findings under the title of “Japanese appetite for whale meat wanes,” while the other is “More [Japanese] back whaling than not.” But in reality, it’s much less clear.
Japan’s whale hunting is the center of international controversy, as it breaks a worldwide ban on the slaughter of the marine mammals under the name of “scientific research,” yet the government’s Fisheries Agency tries to sell the meat for profit. Much of the news on this topic is based on the ongoing struggle with Sea Shepherd, the activist group led by Paul Watson that is surrounded by its own controversy for its often violent attacks on Japan’s ships while at sea. As this year’s hunt begins, Sea Shepherd has launched its latest campaign against Japan’s fleet with the intent of meeting its ships as close to domestic waters as possible.
But today’s stories have little to do with Sea Shepherd or Paul Watson and instead are meant to show how Japanese feel about their country’s lethal whale hunts. The first story, which says people are eating less whale meat, is syndicated by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). It states that Japan’s consumption is the lowest it’s been in years, with just under 90% of respondents saying they haven’t purchased whale meat in the last year. Of the 11% who did buy it, is was only once in that same time period, indicating that it’s becoming less and less common in the Japanese diet.
The other statistic mentioned is that 90% of those surveyed are against the government using funds to build a new processing ship for the whaling fleet. This is most likely in response to the news in late September that the Nisshin Maru, the fleet’s primary factory ship, is in desperate need of repairs due to aging and almost resulted in the Fisheries Agency calling off this year’s hunt.
The second news story is from the Associated Press (AP) and presents that more Japanese people are in support of whaling than those who are against it. This one says that nearly 27% of respondents feel Japan should continue its hunting of whales. 18.5% are said to be opposed to the idea, while the rest have no opinion. Put together with the AFP’s story, the survey results seem to say that most Japanese are not eating whale meat, yet support the continued hunting and killing of the mammal, somewhat of a contradiction.
The truth is that this survey isn’t representative of the Japanese public at all. The number of people who responded? Only 1,200. And the poll was only carried out during a 13-day period in October. There’s no doubt these stories came from the same information, as they both state the survey was commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Is this just another case of numbers and statistics being manipulated by the AFP and AP to promote their own “agendas”? Possibly. But I think it’s more representational of Japanese people not really being aware of the issue at all.
First off, I think a much statistic to look at is the rapidly declining sales of whale meat over the last year. While this is certainly another number that can be construed, it is easily observed that Japanese people rarely eat or buy whale meat during their everyday lives. This is the fact that most supporters of Sea Shepherd and other activist groups are clueless about when they often bring up the argument that Japanese people can sit down and order whale meat at any restaurant they pass by.
Secondly, most Japanese people themselves are clueless about the government’s whaling program. The only thing they ever really hear about it is in relation to the news broadcasts about Sea Shepherd attacks. Most people in Japan will certainly have heard of that group and its criticism of Japanese values. Die-hard nationalists love to use that to hijack the argument about animal rights and make it about preserving Japan’s “traditional culture,” despite the fact that so few people are eating the meat and that the Fisheries Agency is primarily concerned about making money these days.
While this survey had decent intentions in trying understand the public’s opinions, the real topic of Japan and whale hunting seems to have split into two separate issues. There’s the declining sales and eating of whale meat in Japan, and then there’s the debate over animal rights and how justifiable the actions of Sea Shepherd are. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the majority of the Japanese public is in favor of, or wouldn’t care if the country abandoned its lethal whale “research,” but the problem is the stubborn, resistant to change government that just won’t admit when it’s wrong or time to quit.