Japan is making headlines again with the recent return of a Japanese whaling ship carrying 333 dead Minke whales. Western cultures love Japan for cultural artifacts like samurais, geishas, and sushi, but when another Japanese whaling ship comes back with its catch, the gloves come off.
There's something sentimental about whales. They're majestic. They're enormous, and yet they're non-violent. I understand the appeal. I love whales. I support an end to whaling. But I also think there is a very deep hypocrisy behind our criticism of Japan's whaling programs.
Although Japan did kill endangered whales in the past, their most recent hunt brought back Minke whales, a species which is not endangered. And although recent counts suggest Minke whale numbers could be declining, the number of whales that Japan recently killed amounts to less than 1 percent of the most conservative estimate of their current Antarctic population. Additionally, the fact that so many of the killed whales were pregnant indicates that the population is in healthy breeding condition.
I say all this not to justify whaling, but to point out that there is essentially no difference between hunting non-endangered whales for food and hunting any other species of non-endangered animal, such as deer, for food.
I'm willing to bet that many people are under the false impression that Japan is killing endangered whales. But even if everyone knew that Japan's catch does not consist of any endangered species, I think the vast majority of people would still disapprove of whaling. Just as the West looks with disgust upon eastern countries that eat dogs, we malign whaling because whales hold a special place in our hearts. All the while, we sit around our tables eating chickens, cows, and pigs--which studies have proven are actually more intelligent than dogs.
We create arbitrary differences between animals to criticize the practices of other cultures, while continuing to justify our own, but the reality is that if you disapprove of Japanese whaling, you have to disapprove of killing all animals for food.
Factory farming--which supplies the vast majority of the world's meat--is far more unethical than whaling. The Japanese hunt whales that have lived their whole lives in the wild. They make an effort to minimize suffering; they kill the whales with harpoons which explode once they penetrate the whale, killing it instantly.
Compare this to the way we raise and kill factory farm animals in the United States. Animals are kept in cramped quarters where they have barely any room to move around, and many of them never see the sunlight. Factory farmers fatten the animals as quickly as possible before sending them to dingy slaughterhouses. If I had a choice between being a whale that lived in the wild before being harpooned by a whaler, or being a cow in a factory farm, I would choose the former--no question.
Besides the concerns of the ethical treatment of animals, factory farming (as well as organic, or "free range" animal farming) has a tremendous impact on climate change. Warming oceans and pollution are a far greater threat to whales than Japanese fisherman currently are, and the primary global cause of pollution and climate change is animal agriculture.
If you really want to save the whales, don't throw criticisms at Japan; take it upon yourself to stop consuming animals.
The profitability of the whaling industry in Japan has declined significantly, with more and more Japanese people preferring beef and pork to whale meat. The number of whales killed by Japan each year has been steadily declining, and according to a report by BBC, the practice will likely end soon.
But even when it does end, there will still be much work to be done to save the whales, and the rest of this planet, and millions of other animals will still be suffering. If we don't wake up and deal with that reality, we're going to destroy ourselves.
I support an end to whaling. But I also support an end to the killing of all animals for food, and I hope that, going forward, the welfare of all species becomes a part of this conversation.