Japanese whaling was a largely unrecognized issue until a few years ago, when increased protests by environmental groups forced acknowledgement from the Japanese government. The hunting of an endangered species is always cause for alarm, but the outrage at what the Japanese government claims are “research killings” surpasses most other efforts. Whales are brutally killed and then dragged aboard whaling ships to be dismembered and sold.
Whales were historically hunted, almost to near extinction, for their oils and fats. Today, there is no demand and no use for whale oils, because of the dozens of more practical alternatives, so the only market for whales is for consumption. Whale meat is sold in markets and restaurants in Asia, making the region a whaling hot spot. However, recent surveys have demonstrated promising evidence that the demand for whale meat is decreasing.
In 2008, two Greenpeace Japan workers exposed a massive embezzlement plot allowing whale meat to be illegally smuggled into the country. They proved that cancerous tumors were cut out of the whales and their meat was sold as food anyways. It was also found that ships caught more whales than they could process so the dead bodies were dumped back into the ocean. The two Greenpeace employees were arrested and held for 23 days without charges. They were strapped to chairs and interrogated for 10 hours a day. Thousands of people from around the world protested in an effort to gain release for the two activists.
Even with so much unwanted attention on the Japanese whaling industry, the government was slow to respond to accusations of illegal hunting. Scandals continue to pour out of Japan; whale meat was found in school lunches as an attempt to get rid of the excess meat. Since the International Whaling Commission went into effect in 1968, whalers had to find ways around regulations to continue their hunt. Japanese ships claim to be whaling in order to conduct research. However, this is simply a convenient cover up for the slaughter of endangered whales.