December 23, 2013Unlimited Slaughter, Criminal Intent: A small history of Japanese Antarctic whaling
Archeological evidence in the form of whale remains discovered in burial mounds indicate that whales were consumed in Japan since the Jōmon period around 12,000 BC. These remains were likely from stranded whales, but non-industrial whaling began as early as the 12th century, as the earliest records of hand-thrown harpoons are from that era. During the Edo period from 1600 to 1867, whaling became an established industry in some regions. Organized whaling started with the Wadda family in Taiji during the early 1600s, the same time the Dutch and English started whaling in Spitsbergen and 3 centuries after the Basques. Just like the early Basques, the Japanese would watch the sea from towers and rocky outcrops on land. One of these places is now used by the Cove Guardians to watch the movements of the Taiji dolphin killers. When a whale was sighted the entire village was mobilized for the hunt. A whale would be subdued through a combination of driving with small open-rowboats and noise, shallow water netting and hand-held harpooning.
Coastal whaling ships in Taiji, JapanJapan began modern whaling from its coasts in 1905. Norway provided people and equipment in the early years, especially the explosive harpoons, experienced gunners and steel steamships. Soon there were five companies hunting and processing whales. From that day on, it was all about the profit and not at all about ancient tradition.
With the assistance and instruction from Norwegian whalers and the leased or purchased fleet, later expanded by the capture of a Russian whaling fleet, Japan extended its hunting-grounds to Korean waters.
The League of Nations first raised concerns about theover-exploitation of whale stocks and called for conservation measures in 1925. This was not so much an effort to save the whales, but to halt the falling price of whale oil. This eventually led to the Geneva Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was presented in 1931 but did not enter into force until 1934 and was completely ignored by rising superpowers Japan and Germany.
Whale catches by the pioneering whalers of the UK and Norway were so plentiful in the Antarctic in the 1910s, 20s and 30s that they induced several other nations to pelagic whaling. Not just for profit, but for reasons related to military expansion and self-sufficiency. Nazi Germany started whaling to stockpile edible oils. They forced Unilever, whose margarine factories were an important part of German industry, to keep their earnings in Germany and to build up a national whaling fleet. This resulted in the building of the factory ships Walter Rau & Unitas.
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