Blubber Bailout: A Look at the Economics of Japan’s Scientific Research Whaling!

By August 23, 2011 September 27th, 2011 Ocean News
Japanese whaling economics

The conversation about the environmental and moral repercussions of whaling quickly turns into an emotion-filled one. Consider looking at the issue from a new perspective! Few things are more straightforward to talk frankly about than dollars and cents.

Since the moratorium on commercial whaling, the Japanese Government issues research whaling permits to the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) which, in turn, contracts a single whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku. Kyodo Senpaku provides the vessels, crew and logistical support for research operations. Twice a year the products of these hunts (meat, oil, etc.) are released by the ICR to sell. The revenue from these products is intended to cover the costs of whaling and research.

However, the price of the products is fixed by the ICR and Japanese Ministry of Fisheries and consistently has been set to high relative to the demand. Retailers, buying from Kyodo Senpaku, must set their prices even lower to move product off shelves. Wholesale prices of whale meat in Japan have been falling since 1994, starting at just over US$13.60/lb ($30/kg) in 1994, and declining to US$7.40/lb ($6.4/kg) in 2006. Buying at a high price and selling at a low price doesn’t equal record profits no matter what industry you’re in. Consistently retailers and markets have absorbed all these losses or relied on subsidies to ensure they maintain the rights to purchase/sell whale products in the future. But in every business, long term losses can’t be kept up.

Sales of whale meat, blubber and other products have made losses for almost all of the last 20 years. Since 1988, the total losses on sales of whaling by-products have been around US$ 223 million. The season 2008/2009 required a subsidy of nearly US$12 million to simply break even.

In today’s world where economies worldwide are struggling, subsidizing an industry with low market value and largely unpopular public perception seems unnecessary and highly unsustainable. When live whales, through whale-watching, generate an estimated US$1.5 billion a year, continuing to hunt them just doesn’t make cents$.

For more on this subject check out the full report by the World Wildlife Foundation.

About the Author

Megan Cook is a graduate of Oregon State University with a B.Sc. in biology, chemistry and marine biology.  Her passion for exploration, working with great leaders, and fostering understanding of today’s changing oceans has carried Megan working all around the world.  She is inspired by the necessity of connecting the people with an understanding of their reliance and impact on the ocean.  Currently living in Hawaii, Megan works as a field biologist on an invasive species control team and is trying to learn to surf.

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Terry Campbell says:

    I am very interested in this subject, would like to read up on the types of economic benefits that exist that are positive for whale life and whale protection; e.g. has anyone attached dollar values to the various and many ways people spend/invest their hard-earned dollars on watching, art, learning classes, etc. Please give me some ideas to follow up on, as I am involved in serious websites that will further whale appreciation, education, and preservation. Aloha from Hawaii. Terry Campbell

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