The Economics of Scientific Whaling

Draft Minke Whale, South Atlantic Ocean

Scientific whaling is heavily subsidized by taxpayers and returns little in the way of scientific information, a new report says.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling. Most nations complied. Only Norway, Denmark, and Japan continued whaling. While Norway and Denmark are whaling in open defiance of the moratorium, Japan is using a loophole in the moratorium that allows for scientific whaling.

Scientific whaling was given an exception in order to study a newly discovered species or understand how disease might spread through a whale, for example. Japan’s stated reasons for scientific whaling were to estimate the natural mortality rate of Antarctic minke whales, to understand their role in the Antarctic ecosystem, and to develop an estimate of the abundance of the whales and whether the population was increasing, decreasing, or stable. A 2006 review of Japan’s whaling program found that those questions had not been answered at all.

“Whaling… must be conducted to provide whale meat that must be sold to provide funding for the whaling industry.” IFAW report “Economics of Japanese Whaling”, 2013

Scientific whaling was intended by the Japanese government to be self-supporting. However, between 1987 and 2012, Japanese taxpayers subsidized the whaling industry with $378.7 million, for an average of $15 million per year. The subsidies began in 1987 with $8.8 million and gradually grew. In 2012, subsidies were $21.8 million.

The highest year for whaling subsidies in Japan was 2011. Earthquake reconstruction funds were diverted to the whaling industry with the excuse that one of the towns hit by the earthquake was dependent on whaling. $28 million in disaster aid was given to an industry that employs less than one thousand people in all of Japan. The total subsidies for 2011 was $45.9 million.

The whaling industry was supposed to support itself by selling the whale meat after the scientific inquiries were completed. However, Japanese whale meat consumption has declined steadily since its peak in the years immediately following World War II. Today, the average annual consumption of whale meat in Japan is 0.08 pounds per person. That’s 1.4 ounces – maybe two bites – per person per year.

Stockpiles of unsold whale meat increase every year. Currently, a little more than 4000 tons of whale meat is stored. In 2011 and 2012, a series of auctions attempted to sell off the extra meat at bargain prices, some up to half off. Three-quarters of the meat remained unsold.

The whaling industry in Japan makes roughly $59 million per year selling the whale meat from their expeditions. Even so, in 2012, $21.8 million in taxpayer subsidies was necessary to make up the shortfall between the industry’s expenditures and income. A shrinking market shows no sign of turning around. The whaling industry simply cannot support itself.

All dollar figures are US dollars.

The Economics of Japanese Whaling, IFAW, February 2013
Wikipedia, Whale meat, 8 February 2013

Draft minke whale photo via Shutterstock

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Author: Heather Carr

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