EIA at 40 – exposing the world’s biggest porpoise hunt in the stormy seas off Japan

In the countdown to EIA’s 40th anniversary later this year, we are featuring previous editions of our newsletter, highlighting our work exposing environmental crime and abuse. 

EIA News 1999 newsletter coverToday, we share an edition from 1999 detailing our campaign to expose the plight of Dall’s porpoises.

Throughout the Spring of that year, we filmed and reported on the Dall’s porpoise hunt off the coast of Japan – at that time, the biggest porpoise hunt anywhere in the world.

Following a ban on the commercial hunting of big whales in 1986, whaling companies began fraudulently selling large amounts of porpoise meat as whale meat. More than 250,000 Dall’s porpoises were killed in the years that followed.

Despite an appeal by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to Japan to reduce its catch to 10,000 porpoises a year, about twice that number were being hunted annually.

Fearing that time was running out for the Dall’s porpoises, our Ocean campaigners chartered a boat and spent a week at sea off Japan in challenging weather conditions, documenting the hunting and slaughter of the animals. This was the first time an environmental group had ever captured the Japanese harpoon hunt of porpoises on film.

Our footage showed that hunters were targeting mature breeding-age and lactating females with young calves, providing strong evidence that the population was close to collapse.

A week after our team left Japan, the hunt we had been tracking was ordered to close immediately, saving the lives of hundreds of porpoises.

Climate Campaign Leader Clare Perry reflects: “In 1999, we captured the only known existing footage of the Dall’s porpoise hunt in the stormy waters of the North Pacific Ocean. At the time this was by far and away the largest cetacean hunt in the world.

“The report of our investigation and the scientific data we presented to the IWC’s Scientific Committee led to the adoption of a Resolution on the Dall’s porpoise hunt at the IWC meeting in Grenada that year, requesting the Scientific Committee to carry out a status review of the population and calling on Japan to reconsider the catch level.

“It also led to the entire Japanese delegation, along with their Caribbean supporters, walking out of the IWC meeting in protest! They claimed that the IWC had no competency for small cetaceans and subsequently refused to take part in the work of the Scientific Committee on small cetaceans.

“Nevertheless, with our sustained political advocacy at the IWC, our exposés of high mercury levels in Dall’s porpoises and other dolphins and our work to reduce the market for small cetaceans in Japan, the hunt has significantly decreased over time to a fraction of its former level.”

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