Japan has sent out a fleet of ships on a two-month mission. Officials say that the expedition has a harmless aim: it is merely a survey to collect data on the Bryde, Sperm and Minke whales’ habitats, diet and migration patterns.
But the environmentalists are up in arms against them. What has shocked them is the Japanese intent to catch and kill 160 whales. Both the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) are furious with Japan. They insist that the project is not a research study at all, and is merely a cover for commercial hunting.
The Japanese, on the other hand, argue that Bryde and Sperm whale populations have increased over the past few years, and so hunting can resume. They also claim that they want to study the whales’ diet – but in order to look inside their stomachs, they have to kill the whales!
Japanese officials says that while the whale meat would be sold in the local markets, the resulting profits would be used for further whale research!
It is common knowledge that whale meat is sold for an astronomical price in Japan. So how is Japan’s whaling (commercial hunting of whales) scientific? How can they kill the creatures they are supposed to be ‘protecting’? These are some questions, which must be answered.
If the Japanese are indeed carrying out a research expedition (as they claim), then they should find a way to do it without harming their subjects.
Whaling (the commercial hunting of whales) has been going on for years now. As the activity increased and the population of whales began dwindling, the whaling nations of the world got together to form an organisation called the ‘International Whaling Commission’, in 1946.
The commission set down a number of rules that included a ban on the hunting of certain endangered species, while specifying certain areas for hunting purposes, and safeguarding young whales and mother whales.
In 1986, Japan signed an international agreement to give up whaling. However, the country continued to hunt Minke whales, for what they claimed was ‘research’.
This recent expedition is the first time Japan has openly declared it is targeting other whale species – including the endangered Sperm whale, the Bryde whale and the Minke whales.
The Bryde whale is a grayish-coloured whale that can grow to a length of 46 ft. These whales are most common in coastal areas of most tropical and subtropical countries.
The Minke whale is smaller and can be found virtually everywhere – although they are less common in the tropics. Most of the countries have given up whaling, but Norway and Japan argue since Minke whales are fairly abundant, they can be hunted.
Both the Minke and the Bryde are not on the endangered list, but they are protected (as per an international agreement signed by whaling nations, in 1986.)
Whales are not only the largest but also among the most intelligent of mammals. There are two main groups of whales – Baleen whales and Toothed whales.
Both the Bryde and the Minke whales are Baleen whales, which means they are filter feeders. These mammals do not have teeth. Instead, thin plates of baleen (a fingernail-like material) hang from their upper jaws.
These plates act as gigantic strainers, trapping the fish and releasing seawater. A Baleen whale swims with its mouth open, in order to engulf plankton and seawater by the tonne. It then shuts its mouth and presses its tongue against the baleen plates. This forces the water out of the mouth and traps the prey.
Toothed whales are more numerous and are much smaller than Baleen whales. The Killer whale, found in the polar seas, is a toothed whale and is considered to be the most ferocious of all whales.
If water enters a whale’s lungs, it drowns as any other air-breathing creature would. This is because a whale doesn’t have gills. It surfaces at regular intervals to take in air through nostrils that are situated at the top of its head.
The largest mammal in the world, today, is the blue whale. This whale belongs to the Baleen category and can grow to a length of up to 100 feet (which would be more than 10 cars lined up bumper to bumper!).
The Blue whale is larger than the largest ever brontosaurus fossil found — 75 ft in length. If countries like Japan are allowed to get away with their “research”, these marvelous creatures could soon become the next item on Earth’s “Extinct” list.