Toxic Catch: Japan’s unsustainable and irresponsible whale, dolphin and porpoise hunts

A new analysis by EIA of the unsustainable hunts of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Japan’s coastal waters, which are on track to wipe out key species while also threatening human health with toxic meat products contaminated with mercury and other pollutants.





• Download the Japanese language version of Toxic Catch here.


Toxic Catch: Executive Summary


Over a million toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises, commonly known as ‘small cetaceans’, have been killed in direct hunts in Japan in the last 70 years. Catch limits set by the Government of Japan for 2013 permit the killing of 16,655 small cetaceans. This represents the largest directed hunt of cetaceans in the world. A comprehensive analysis of the available scientific data demonstrates unequivocally that there are grave concerns regarding the sustainability of these hunts.


Nine small cetacean species are targeted in Japan’s coastal hunts, which take the form of small-type coastal whaling, hand harpoon hunts and drive hunts. Long before catch limits were introduced, the abundance of favoured species, such as the striped dolphin, began to drastically decline due to overexploitation.  As catches reached in excess of 30,000 small cetaceans per year concerns were raised at an international level regarding the unsustainable nature of Japan’s hunts.  Catch limits were set by the Government of Japan in 1993, however the actual catch numbers have declined to levels below the catch limits in the majority of species targeted by direct hunts. Declining demand for cetacean meat and the increasing economic costs of hunts may be playing a role, but there is significant evidence that a number of the exploited populations are depleted: changes in catch composition, declining abundance trends and reports from hunters of an increased difficulty in filling quotas all point to overexploitation.

日本の沿岸猟では9種の小型鯨類が対象とされており、小型沿岸捕鯨、突きん棒漁、追い込み漁という形をとります。捕獲枠が導入されるずっと昔から、スジイルカのように漁業者が好む鯨種の生息数は、過剰な猟のために劇的に減り始めました。 毎年の小型鯨類の捕獲数は30,000頭を超えるため、日本の猟の持続不可能な性質が国際的にも問題となっています。 1993年に日本政府によって捕獲枠が設定されましたが、実際の捕獲頭数は直接猟の対象となる鯨種の多くで捕獲枠を下回るレベルまで減っています。鯨肉の需要の減少と猟の経済的コストの増加が影響を及ぼしている可能性もありますが、捕獲される個体群の頭数が減ってきていることを示す重要な証拠があります。捕獲構成の変化、減少傾向を示す資源量推定、捕獲枠を充足することが困難だと指摘する漁業者の報告はすべて過剰捕獲を示しています。

Despite the indications of population declines, there appears to have been little monitoring of the status of the exploited small cetacean populations. For many of the species hunted, the last published abundance estimates are based upon surveys conducted more than twenty years ago.


Disregarding clear signals of overexploitation the Government has permitted catches to remain at levels that are unsustainable for eight of the nine target species. Small reductions in catch limits have been made since 2007 but often in prefectures where hunts are no longer occurring.

過剰な捕獲を示す明確なシグナルを無視して、政府は9種中8種の対象鯨種について持続不可能なレベルの捕獲枠を認めています。  2007年以降、捕獲枠は小規模に縮小されていますが、しばしばそれは猟がすでに行われなくなった県の捕獲枠についてです。

The Government of Japan provides little transparency regarding the methods it is using to set catch limits but they remain considerably higher than those that would be permitted under management strategies employed elsewhere in the world. In addition there is little or no attention to catch composition or struck and lost rates – the latter remaining unaccounted for in the reported data on numbers killed. Although multiple tools now exist to calculate sustainable levels of marine mammal mortality these are not being employed.


The apparent absence of both up-to-date information on the status of populations and a scientifically rigorous method for setting catch limits displays a lack of responsibility by the Government to ensure the sustainability of small cetacean populations in Japanese waters. Through such conduct the Japanese Government is failing to implement its domestic policies of sustainable utilisation  and stipulations of the international conventions to which it is a signatory including the Convention on Biological Diversity.

個体数の状況に関する最新情報も、捕獲枠を設定するための科学的に厳格な手法も共に明らかに存在していないことは、日本沿岸における小型鯨類の生息数の持続性を確保することに関する政府の責任欠如を示しています。こうした振る舞いから、日本政府は持続的資源活用を目指す国内政策  と生物多様性条約を含む日本が批准する国際条約の規定の遂行に失敗しています。

In 2012 the Society of Marine Mammalogy, a professional society of more than 1,800 scientists from 60 countries expressed their concern regarding the sustainability of the hunts.  In 2013, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) again voiced its concerns regarding the sustainability of catches. However the Japanese Government has continued to ignore IWC requests to reduce catch limits, persistently claiming that the IWC does not have competence over small cetaceans.

2012年に、60ヶ国の1,800人以上の科学者からなる専門学会、国際海棲哺乳類学会は、小型鯨類の猟の持続性に関して懸念を示しました。  2013年には、国際捕鯨委員会(IWC)の科学委員会が捕獲の持続性に関して懸念を重ねて表明しました。  それにもかかわらず、日本政府はIWCの捕獲枠を減らすよう求める要請を無視しており、IWCは小型鯨類に関する権限がないと繰り返し主張しています。

The hunts themselves serve only to provide toxic food products to Japanese consumers, who are largely unaware of the high levels of pollutants these top marine predators typically accumulate. Pollutant concentrations in meat and blubber from the marketplace can reach 85 times the safe limits for consumption of methyl mercury and 140 times the safe limit for PCBs.  The Government of Japan’s advisory limits remain wholly inadequate to inform or protect consumers – something all the more shocking in light of the recent signing of the Minamata Treaty in Japan.

小型鯨類の猟は日本の消費者に対して有毒な食品を提供するに過ぎず、消費者のほとんどは海洋高次捕食者が一般的に体内に蓄積する有害物質の含有量の多さに気づいていません。市場で購入された赤身肉や脂身に含まれる有害物質は、消費安全基準と比較してメチル水銀で85倍、PCBで140倍に達することすらあります。  日本政府が勧告する摂食制限は、消費者に情報提供し、消費者を守るには非常に不十分なままです。これは、日本で最近水俣条約が調印されたことに照らすと、なおいっそう驚くべきことと言えます。

Decades after concerns first arose, the Government of Japan continues to ignore international pleas to reduce catches, implement a scientific management system and publish up to date population assessments. Burying its head in the sand regarding the inevitable population declines and the health risks to Japanese consumers of whale, dolphin and porpoise products, the Japanese Government maintains a stubborn reluctance to relinquish this archaic industry for which there is declining domestic demand.


The Government of Japan has a responsibility to restore and maintain coastal cetacean species at their former levels, and protect consumers from the consumption of toxic seafood products. EIA urges the Government of Japan to phase out the hunts over a ten year period, by establishing a scientific management programme that targets action on those species most at risk and working with hunters to find alternative livelihoods.


• Download the Japanese translation of the report’s executive summary here.