When you think about Japan and whales, the images that come to mind may be unsettling.
Whales chased across the open ocean by high-speed catcher boats, harpooned carcasses hauled up the ramp of a massive factory ship, bled, butchered and boxed up for shipment back to Tokyo, violent clashes between vessels in the Antarctic whale sanctuary, high-volume demonstrations at Japanese embassies worldwide.
But beneath the surface, behind those harsh images, Japan’s emerging approach to marine mammals is actually more complex. And, like the attitude of the Japanese people towards whales and dolphins, that approach is shifting.
Look no further for evidence of this than today’s public launch of the new Japan Whale and Dolphin Watching Council (JWDC) at the Tosho Kaikan conference center here in Tokyo.
JWDC board members drawn from seven regions around the Japanese archipelago, representing some 200 individual whale and dolphin watching operators around the country, announced plans for the first ever such association established here. Bylaws adopted, officers elected, guidelines approved and plans for enhanced marketing and outreach underway, the JWDC is off and swimming.
From modest beginnings in the late 1980s, Japan’s whale watching industry served more than 200,000 people last year – people who paid money to see the spectacular array of living whales and dolphins around Japan’s coast.
IFAW’s most recent analysis of the whale watching industry showed more than 13 million people going whale watching in more than 120 countries and territories worldwide with combined economic impact of US $2.1 billion, creating an estimated 13,000 jobs. With an annual growth rate north of six percent, Japan is already in the top 10 percent of the world whale watching market.
Meanwhile, the market for meat from dead whales here continues to plummet, despite desperate government efforts to prop up the outmoded whaling industry.
Here in Japan and worldwide the bottom line is increasingly clear: responsible whale watching is the most sustainable, environmentally‐friendly and economically beneficial “use” of whales in the 21st Century.
At a time when national economies, our planet’s great whales and global conservation measures are all under threat, it’s encouraging to see coastal communities around Japan reaping benefits from this rapidly developing form of ecotourism.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, IFAW has worked on the ground in Japan for more than two decades to encourage this trend.
With your help we will continue to support this new association and others like it around the world because animals, people and coastal communities all do better when whales are seen and not hurt.
For more information about IFAW efforts to protect whales around the world, visit our campaign page.