Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Research Whaling's 30-Year Struggle

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Research Whaling's 30-Year Struggle

Article excerpt

Japan's research whaling fleet led by the Nisshin Maru, an 8,145-ton vessel that has engaged in research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean for nearly 30 years, returned to Shimonoseki Port, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Sunday.

The history of Japan's research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean has come to an end as the Japanese government withdraws from the International Whaling Commission and resumes commercial whaling in July.

"We never took down our Japanese flag in the Antarctic Ocean," said Koji Matsuoka, 52, a deputy division chief of the Tokyo-based Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR). "We kept the faith, at the very least, when we faced any kind of hindrance."

The Japanese government contracted the foundation to conduct research whaling.

Research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean had been undertaken by a fleet comprising five vessels led by the Nisshin Maru factory ship.

The research routine started with crew members scanning the ocean surface to find whales breaking the surface of the water to breathe. After the whales are spotted, the two vessels called whale catchers rush to the sites and catch the whales using tools such as harpoons. The two remaining ships conduct visual checks on the number of whales at the sites.

The catches are loaded onto the Nisshin Maru. On deck, crew take measurements of the whales' weight and dimensions, check their stomachs' contents and harvest samples for genetic analysis. Then the carcasses are stored in a freezer, brought back to Japan as "byproducts" of the research and sold in markets.

Research whaling began in November every year and lasted until the following March. On one voyage in recent years, the fleet caught 333 Antarctic minke whales.

Matsuoka participated 15 times in the research whaling voyages conducted by the fleet led for about 30 years by the Nisshin Maru.

As expedition leader, Matsuoka has led about 200 crew members in their 20s and 30s during 150-day voyages.

But research whaling has come under harsh criticism by anti-whaling countries and organizations.

In particular, Sea Shepherd, an anti-whaling organization, rammed its boats against vessels of the Japanese fleet. Sea Shepherd activists also threw bottles containing butyric acid, which discharges a strong odor, and smoke canisters onto the Japanese ships many times.

"As I feared what I would be able to do if we were attacked while sleeping," Matsuoka said, "I was unable to sleep almost every day during each of the voyages. …

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