Kids gasp in horror as whale gets carved up

2014-06-26 12:23
Fishermen slaughter a 10m-long bottlenose whale at the Wada port in Minami-Boso city. (Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP)

Fishermen slaughter a 10m-long bottlenose whale at the Wada port in Minami-Boso city. (Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP)

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Tokyo - To mark the start of Japan's whaling season, workers in the coastal town of Minamiboso on Thursday carved up one of the animals as a crowd of grade school students and residents watched, with free samples of its fried meat handed out later.

The annual event took place in the district of Wada in the town some 100km south of the capital, Tokyo, a week into Japan's first coastal whaling season since a global court halted the country's better known Antarctic whaling in March.

Though environmentalists condemn whaling, Japan maintains it is an important part of its food heritage. Wada is proud of its centuries-old traditions and takes pains to teach such local culture and history to its children.

38 students from the town's primary school murmured and gasped as workers used ropes and a pulley to drag up a concrete ramp a 9m long whale killed the previous night.

"This part is the fat. If you're scared, close your eyes”, said Yoshinori Shoji, president of the Gaibo Hogei whaling company, as one of the workers sawed off the whale's skin and fat, exposing the dark meat and entrails.

"They're so skilful", some students said. But others gasped, "Stop! It’s so pitiable!"

'Whale is food'

Whale is a rarity on most Japanese tables, but Wada residents regularly eat it at home and in school lunches.

"It's so good", said Taishi Makino, aged 10.

In Wada, souvenir shops, restaurants, supermarkets and whale specialty stores line the streets, selling whale meat products and dishing up everything from whale sushi to fried whale.

"Here in Wada we eat whales. Every family eats whale at least once during the summer whaling season", said Michiyo Masuda, the students' teacher. "If we are eating whales, we have the responsibility to see and learn how they’re prepared."

"For us, whale is food. Whaling is a good tradition, and I want to pass on the trade before I die", said Shoji, whose firm processes and sells whale.

He lectures on whaling every year at local schools, and hands out samples of preserved whale fin.

Japan's international whaling programme suffered a blow when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March ordered a halt to its "scientific whaling" programme in the Antarctic.

The surprise move prompted Japan to cancel whaling in the Southern Ocean for 2014-2015.

Japan has long maintained that many whale species are not endangered. It began what it calls scientific whaling in 1987, a year after an international moratorium took effect. Coastal whaling is exempt from the moratorium.
Read more on:    japan  |  marine life  |  conservation

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