Japan Seeks Whaling Resumption
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ABOARD THE TOSHIMARU NO. 25 (AP) _ In the engine room of this Japanese whaling boat, among greasy pistons, lime-green pipes and the stench of oil and brine, a group in hardhats huddles around its skipper.
This isn’t a meeting of mechanics. It’s a school field trip.
As scientists debated minke whale population trends Friday at the International Whaling Conference in the southwestern town of Shimonoseki, local officials gave teen-agers a tour of this research whaling ship.
``It was incredible,″ said 14-year-old Mayumi Kume. ``The high places on the deck were kind of scary, but it was fun.″
The IWC conference wrapped up its scientific subcommittee Friday. The full scientific debate begins Saturday with the arrival of dozens more delegates from IWC-member nations. The subcommittee meeting was closed to the media, and delegations declined to comment on the discussions.
During the scientific meetings that last until May 10, Japan is hoping to rally other nations to overturn the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. In a report, the IWC says the southern hemisphere’s minke whale population had fallen from 761,000 to some 270,000, a claim that Japan disputes.
Much of Japan’s argument for pushing the IWC to lift its ban on commercial whaling is that the nation should be allowed to preserve a culinary culture that dates back centuries. Officials have been lobbying Japanese children aggressively to win them to their side.
Earlier this month, the government organized a whale meat giveaway in Tokyo’s trendiest youth district, handing out canned whale stew, deep-fried whale tempura and chunks of whale steak.
``We believe it’s important to teach young people about our food traditions including eating whales,″ said Osamu Fukuyama of Japan’s Fisheries Agency.
In Shimonoseki, training vessels belonging to fisheries high schools often visit the shipyard where the Toshimaru No. 25 is docked. It was on such a trip that the boat’s 28-year-old engine mechanic found his vocation.
``When I saw the whaling boat, I knew I’d become a whaler,″ Yoshimasa Koga said.
Shimonoseki has spared no expense to advertise its hopes for a return to commercial whaling.
Outside the IWC convention center, the city has set up a whale sculpture made of leaves. The local aquarium has rented an 80-foot blue whale skeleton from Norway. A local restaurant featured an ``IWC memorial menu″ of whale steak, whale sashimi, and whale stew.
``If only they’d allow commercial whaling our town would rise up again,″ said company worker Hisakazu Yoshida.
But despite Japanese lobbying, and backing from other whaling nations such as Norway, the commercial whaling ban is unlikely to be lifted since a three-quarters majority is needed to adopt such a resolution.
Shimonoseki residents say the debate goes beyond science.
At Gyosan fish shop, Reiko Okamoto proudly displayed rows of whale tongue, bacon, fillets and tripe.
``This whaling ban is a big headache for us,″ said Okamoto. ``We had whale meat all the time as kids, and all of a sudden as adults it’s become so expensive!″