Monday, August 16, 2010

A whale of a controversy

A couple of recent Japan Times articles address the issue of whaling in Japan as relating to racism, cultural identity, and its neighboring countries. They can be read here and here.
Image Source: Japan Times
Both articles are interesting reading, and though the piece on racism focuses not on the arguments for or against whaling but instead on the way Japanese are portrayed by anti-whaling groups in Australia and New Zealand, both columns seem opposed to the practice. As this blog seems to be touching more and more upon sensitive issues, I just wanted to weigh in and also see what all you out there in Internet Land think.

A few months ago I posted about my experience eating horse meat, and as I recall there were one or two negative reactions to the fact that I also mentioned I have eaten whale meat. So yes, I've eaten whale, and yes I would eat it again. But I want to qualify my feelings on the issue.

I agree with Chris Burgess that eating whale meat isn't really a long-time cultural element of Japan. And as he admits, Japan is often unfairly singled out. Japan is not the only country that engages in whaling, and not all whale meat eaten in Japan is actually from Japanese whaling. Additionally, there are plenty of other countries and peoples that either find it morally objectionable to eat animals that many of us consume regularly, or that eat other animals we wouldn't eat. This includes other intelligent animals, and yet you don't hear much protest these days about people eating monkey. And you also don't hear of countries like India or Nepal protesting the fact that many other countries eat beef, despite the fact that most Hindus (in those countries anyway) respect and protect cows. I haven't heard many instances of Muslims or Jews decrying the eating or pork. So yes, I think Japan is treated unfairly, and I do think that Australia and New Zealand are whiners and are not approaching the issue the right away. Although many of Japan's social practices are driven by shame (or avoidance of it), demonizing the Japanese is not the way to change their minds.

I respect the views of those who are opposed to whaling and I understand where they're coming from, just as I respect vegetarianism. One of my best friends is a vegetarian. The difference between him and many of the anti-whaling proponents I've encountered both in real life and on the internet, is that he is tolerant and nonjudgemental of those who disagree with him. Just as I don't try to convince him to have a hamburger, he's never tried to make me feel guilty for eating meat or push his views on me. As a result, I unwittingly came to be interesting in his views on meat-eating and did some research of my own. Now I have a better understanding of the issue and even feel a desire to reduce the amount of meat I consume. 

As I said, I have eaten whale. Honestly, I haven't read anything to sway me into thinking that whales shouldn't be eaten because of their intelligence. I respect the view, I just don't happen to share it (at this point). I do draw a line, however, at eating a threatened species. The vast majority of whales hunted by Japanese whalers are Minkes, which are classified as Least Concern by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This is the same category as mice, pigeons, and humans. I don't have any objection to people hunting or eating these (whales).

Source: Wikipedia
I do, however, find the hunting and eating of threatened and endangered species, like the Fin Whale and Sperm Whale, to be a problem. Even if you like the taste of whale, it's a hard sell to use it as a justification for wiping out an entire species.

I will probably take some flack for this post, but what do you all think? Do you find eating whale to be morally objectionable? Or have you yourself tried whale meat?


  1. "This is the same category as mice, pigeons, and humans. I don't have any objection to people hunting or eating these."

    Back home in the US, we call that 'cannibalism,' and while I may not agree with it, I respect you for standing up for what you believe in.

  2. Haha...thanks, Shadow. That was a poor yet pretty funny choice of word order there.

  3. LOL @ Shadow.

    This was a good read. I didn't know about the minke whales being so common. That's some good arguing ammo the next time someone tries to talk me out of trying whale.

    I haven't eaten whale yet, but I'm planning on it. I'm trying to make things fair for the cows. Saying we're cool with whales is like telling cows, "Hey, we're gonna eat you, but you guys totally deserve it for some reason."

  4. really it wouldn't be fair to cows NOT to eat whale, would it, Joe?

  5. Sorry, it was inevitable:

  6. I don't know how it is in Australia or New Zealand, but here in the US virtually nobody is aware that there's any such thing as a non-endangered kind of whale. The endangered ones get 100% of the attention. If you tell a random group of Americans that the Japanese hunt and eat whale, the reaction you're going to get is something along the lines of, "Oh, no, what are we going to do? If they chow down on George and Gracie, all the Earth's oceans will be vaporized. We have to stop them before it's too late to save the planet!"

    The Japanese, of all people, should understand this mentality. Sure, the concern may be misplaced, but it comes from reasonable motives.

  7. Heh heh, nice Star Trek reference!