Letter to Japanese Government Regarding Dolphin and Small Whale Hunts

Prime Minister of Japan
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
1-6-1 Nagata-cho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
100-8968 JAPAN

Director General of Fisheries Agency
Masanori Sato
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
1-2-1 Kasumigaseki
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
100-8950 JAPAN

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Michihiko Kano
Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
1-2-1 Kasumigaseki
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.
100-8950 JAPAN

Embassy of Japan
Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki
2520 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008-2869

23 May 2012

Dear Sirs:

The Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, a professional society consisting of more than 1,800 scientists from 60 countries dedicated to the study, understanding, and conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems, has recently reviewed information on the dolphin and small whale hunts in Japan. On behalf of the Board and Society, I would like to convey our serious concern regarding the sustainability of those hunts and to request clarification on a number of points.

  1. Sustainability of catches in Wakayama Prefecture
    According to information available to us, there is reason for concern about the pattern of catches of dolphins and small whales in Wakayama Prefecture since the late 1960’s. Catches of the two preferred species, striped dolphins and short-finned pilot whales, reached a peak in the early 1980’s, with nearly 13,000 striped dolphins and more than 800 pilot whales taken in the highest years. Since then, the catches of those species have declined despite the fact that there is still a strong local demand for cetacean meat. Catches of less desirable species, especially bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, have increased.
  2. Sustainability of catches along Izu Peninsula
    In a similar situation, very large catches of striped dolphins, more than 10,000 animals in some years, were made by villages along the Izu Peninsula after World War II. The annual catch of this species on the peninsula has declined to fewer than 100, despite the fact that there is still a strong local demand for cetacean meat. Consumers on the Izu Peninsula now import Dall’s porpoise meat from northern Japan.

We are aware that catch limits have been imposed on fisheries for dolphins and small whales in Japan and realize this could account for some of the recent declines in catch levels. However, at least some of the major reductions in catch levels of preferred species, notably striped dolphins in Wakayama Prefecture and on the Izu Peninsula, occurred well before quotas had been introduced, suggesting that the hunting pressure was unsustainable. Even if current catch levels were considered sustainable based on rigorous, up-to-date population assessments (which we understand they are not), this would not necessarily allow for population recovery. Nor would it give due consideration to other factors that potentially affect the stocks, such as mortality in fishing gear and pollution impacts, or to behavioral features of these highly social animals that are difficult to measure and incorporate into management.

  1. Request for clarification of the analytical methods used to determine safe limits on dolphin and small whale catches in Japan
    The Society for Marine Mammalogy emphasizes the importance of rigorous, objective science to support and inform the management of all human activities affecting living natural resources. The Society recognizes, however, that in many cases the available science is not adequate to provide a sound basis for deliberate exploitation of wild populations. It is in the spirit of those core principles that I request clarification of the analytical methods Japanese authorities have used to determine safe limits on dolphin and small whale catches. An example of the detail we would like is the analysis by Okamura et al. (2008)1 that specifies abundance and growth rates together with human-caused mortality to assess sustainability. Although I have not polled the Society’s membership, I am confident that the vast majority of members would wish to see Japan take a precautionary approach to management of cetacean fisheries in order to prevent further population declines.

All countries, including mine and those of other Society members, need to rethink our earlier ideas about the resilience of wild populations of marine mammals in the light of rapid, ongoing, and profound changes in the global environment. This important task is a focus of much of our Society’s work, and is the reason we are trying to better understand Japan’s program for managing small cetacean hunting to ensure sustainability.

I hope you will consider these requests and expressions of concern and I look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.


Randall Wells

Randall S. Wells, PhD

1Okamura, H, T. Iwasaki and T. Miyashita. 2008. Toward sustainable management of small cetacean fisheries around Japan. Fisheries Science 74: 718-729