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In Japan, Whale Meat Tastes Good
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In Japan, Whale Meat Tastes Good

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In Japan, Whale Meat Tastes Good

In Japan, Whale Meat Tastes Good
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New Zealand is trying to keep a Japanese whaling fleet out of its Antarctic waters. Prime Minister Helen Clark has told the fleet to stay away, saying she will take photos of their hunting activities if they enter the area. Chris Hogg of the BBC explains the Japanese side of the story.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Japan's whale-hunting fleet: one, Greenpeace: zero - for now. You see, the Greenpeace boat, the Esperanza, spent two weeks tracking a Japanese ship, the Nisshin Maru, to keep it from hunting whales. While the ship, the Esperanza, running low on fuel, so the Greenpeace vessel had to head back to port from the Southern Ocean.

Now, opponents say Japan's annual whale hunt, which is expected to yield nearly a thousand whales by mid-April, is simply about profit. Japan says the hunt is perfectly legal under a clause in the International Whaling Commission rules that allows whales to be hunted for scientific purposes.

So, who is right in this yes, we can, no, you can't tussle over whale expeditions? Well, we got a little perspective from someone who doesn't have a whale doesn't have whale in that hunt, BBC correspondent Chris Hogg in Tokyo.

As we discuss this issue about the ethics of whale-hunting, since you're a reporter, you're a good person to talk to, can you present each side's argument to me in just a sentence or two?

Mr. CHRIS HOGG (Tokyo Correspondent, BBC): Sure. I mean, as far as the Japanese are concerned, there is no problem with what they're doing. What they say is they have a legal right to hunt whales under the aegis of the International Whaling Commission. They hunt whales for scientific purposes. They agree a quota each year, they go out to hunt that quota.

They argue that as far as they're concerned, Japan has a traditional and cultural justification for this, that the hunting of whales, the eating of whales has being something the Japanese have done the decades, if not hundreds of years. And therefore, they should go ahead with it.

Now, on the other side, you've got the argument from the anti-whaling nations, who say this is a species which is - all the different species of whales are under threat, some of them more under threat than others. But even killing - if you take a hump-backed whale, that they argue that even killing one whale in a group can seriously affect all the other whales in the group, because research shows that in that particular species, they are very close when they are swimming around. They swim together in families, if you like. And so the loss of one whale can be devastating for the other whales in that group.

STEWART: Is there a cultural insensitivity on the part of people who are against this whaling, if this is part of Japanese culture, or is that argument been convenient for the Japanese who want to whale?

Mr. HOGG: I think there is a problem on both sides here…

STEWART: Hmm.

Mr. HOGG: …frankly. And I think that probably what you can criticize the Japanese government for is they're not going out there and trying to get their message across well enough. I don't think they explained just how people feel about whaling in Japan. The truth is it's an issue that most people don't really care about.

If you stop people in the streets and said what do you think about whaling, they probably wouldn't have an opinion because it's not an issue that's really discussed much in the newspapers. And yet, there is this very small, very vocal minority of people who are connected with the whaling industry who shout very loudly.

And that's why we still have whaling. It's one of those issues. If you think about it, if you're a politician, you are never going to win any votes in Japan by trying to get whaling banned or trying to stop your country from whaling. However, you will lose a lot of votes if you try to do this. So the politicians don't go near the issue.

But it's really not something that exercises most people, unless Japan starts getting victimized, as they see it, by other countries. And when other countries start ganging up on Japan, well, then it becomes an issue of sovereignty, and people don't like that.

STEWART: It's less about the whales and more about don't you tell my country and my people what to do.

Mr. HOGG: That's exactly it. And really, the proponents of whaling are very clever, because they frame this as an issue of nationalism. They say, we think lambs are cute, but we don't tell you not to eat lambs. So just because you think whales are cute, why should you tell us not to eat whales?

STEWART: One of the arguments the Japanese who are pro-whaling they give is that it's part of a scientific research. Does there seem to be any evidence that there is out that these hunts are part of a scientific research? Are there papers that we can read? Are there reports out there?

Mr. HOGG: Sure, there's - there are a number of papers. And you can go to the Japanese Fisheries Agency or the Institute of Cetacean Research, which is the body that runs the whale hunts, and you'll find all their scientific evidence published there.

There are debates at the IWC meeting every summer, though, about the usefulness of this research and the anti-whaling nations saying, look, we can find other methods to make decisions about the population of a certain species of whale or what they like to eat or how they live without killing them and opening up their stomachs or looking inside their ears, which is what the Japanese say needs to happen.

One of the criticisms the Japanese face is that they are allowed to sell the whale meat, which they collect as part of their scientific whaling, as long as they use those funds to pay for the whaling hunt. And that leads other people to say that you're not actually doing this for the science. You're doing this because you want to hunt. The Japanese turn around and say, no. It's very simple. We do this research, whaling. We think there is a need for that. And, of course, what would be the point of wasting the meat? We might as well, you know, get some benefit from that, too.

STEWART: I got to get the elephant out of the room, or the whale out of the room. You've eaten whale meat, right?

Mr. HOGG: I have eaten whale meat. I've eaten it raw. I've eaten whale sashimi - small, squares, white squares and darkest squares with the skin and the blubber, the fat. I've also eaten it stir fried. I have to say, the stir fried was better, because whale has a very strong taste, and that the sweet and sour sauce of the stir fried whale slightly masks that. So, yup, I've eaten it. I wouldn't eat it again, not for ethical reasons as such, more because it's not great food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: So, is whale something I find on the menu regularly? If we're discussing this issue of people deciding that they need to hunt whales, the Japanese are saying, yes, this is something we need to do. Is it - have anything to do with their culinary desires?

Mr. HOGG: Well, if you came to Tokyo, I could take you to restaurants where we would guarantee to have whale on the menu. There aren't very many of them. There are a handful of them that I know of. And you'd find that - you'd perhaps find more of them in the parts of Japan, particularly in the coastal areas, where there is offshore whaling in the summer.

STEWART: From Tokyo, Chris Hogg from the BBC News.

Chris, thanks a lot.

Mr. HOGG: Okay. No problem.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Hey, stay with us. Next on the BPP, John Harris from Politico.com will be on the line, talking State of the Union tonight and the Republican primary in Florida tomorrow. So much good stuff.

STEWART: And all the news that's marginally fit to print. It's The Ramble. And this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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