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Japan Defies Whaling Commission, begins Dall's Porpoise Hunt

By Environmental News Network

1st November, 2001

Dall's Porpoise

Dall's porpoises killed in coastal waters of Japan

In defiance of a resolution passed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in London in July, the Japanese whaling fleet begins its controversial hunt of Dall's porpoises on Nov. 1.

At its annual meeting in July, the IWC Scientific Committee expressed "extreme concern" over the numbers of Dall's porpoises killed each year. It is the largest direct kill of any whale, dolphin, or porpoise in the world, with up to 18,000 porpoises killed each year in hand harpoon hunts in Japanese coastal waters.

The IWC resolution, proposed by the British delegation, called for an immediate halt to the Dall's porpoise hunts until a full population estimate has been carried out.

The current abundance estimate is more than 10 years old. Since then more than 130,000 Dall's porpoises have been reported killed. In addition, substantial numbers have been killed by fishing vessels targeting other species. These do not figure in official statistics.

Japan declined to give the IWC data on the numbers of porpoises in its waters or those killed. Japanese officials said that because the cull took place in Japanese territorial waters, it was outside IWC jurisdiction.

Deputy delegation head Masayuki Komatsu, backed by several small Caribbean states, said the Commission's writ only covers great whales, and it had no place remarking on small cetaceans.

"Unless the Commission stops undue interference on the catching of small cetaceans, we are not prepared to provide information," Komatsu said. The Japanese have refused to take part in the work of the small cetacean subcommittee of the IWC Scientific Committee or provide any information on the subject of coastal cetaceans at next year's IWC meeting.

Dall's porpoises are named after the zoologist who first noted them in the wild, William H. Dall. The IWC first expressed concern about the sustainability of the Dall's porpoise hunt in 1990 when it was revealed that 67 percent of the estimated Japanese population of this species had been killed in the previous three years.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a California-based marine mammal protection organization, said Japan is "hunting its coastal cetacean populations to extinction. Hundreds of boats are licensed to kill porpoises and use specialized equipment. They have severely depleted, in sequence, populations of striped dolphins, pilot whales, beaked whales, and Dall's porpoise," according to the Sea Shepherd Society, whose founding president, Paul Watson, has protested Japanese coastal porpoise and dolphin kills in Japan.

DNA analyses done recently by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a nonprofit environmental group with offices in London and Washington, show that meat labeled as "whale" in Japanese supermarkets is often Dall's porpoise, bottlenose dolphin, or other dolphin or small whale species.

The label said "whalemeat," but products purchased by EIA investigators from a supermarket in Osaka were actually Dall's porpoise, lab analysis found. The meat contained levels of methyl mercury four times higher than consumption levels permitted by the government of Japan.

Clare Perry, senior campaigner for EIA, said, "Japan's refusal to abide by the IWC's resolution is simply the latest example of the Japanese government's disregard for international conservation agreements and scientific opinion."

Japan's Fisheries Agency has called the yearly take of Dall's porpoises "a sustainable level ... based on scientific standards."

Perry said, "Japan has ignored repeated requests in the past to lower the numbers killed, refused to take part in this year's population review of the species, and has already stated it will not provide information at next year's meeting of the IWC. Its history of utter intransigence is unrivaled within the IWC. Meanwhile the unregulated slaughter of Dall's porpoises continues."

"As the population plummets," Perry warned Wednesday, "hunters are targeting lactating females with calves. The dependent calves are left to die, and they do not figure in official catch statistics. The International Whaling Commission recognizes the urgent need to end these hunts. Japan should comply with international opinion and earn some much needed credibility and respect within the IWC."

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