Harpooned: Greenpeace exposes scandal at heart of whaling

Feature Story - 2009-02-02
Tokyo, Japan — Stake outs, testimony from informers, hidden cameras and tailing trucks full of stolen goods - it reads like a Hollywood movie, but it was an every day experience for Greenpeace activists in Japan, who have spent four months cracking open a major conspiracy of corruption at the heart of Japan's government-backed whaling operation sham.

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign coordinator Junichi Sato weighs 23.5 kilograms of whale meat stolen by crewmembers of the Nisshin Maru whaling ship. The contents of the box were listed as "cardboard."

Today, we displayed a cardboard box filled with the best cuts of whale meat, smuggled ashore by the crew of the Japanese whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru, for illegal trade and personal gain, at the Japanese taxpayer's expense. The box, along with videotaped testimony and other evidence, suggests widespread embezzlement of whale meat which has been occurring for decades right under the noses of the public officials who run the whaling program and are allowing it to happen.

Bureaucrats ignore theft from taxpayers

Our activists delivered the evidence, including the whale meat, to the Public Prosecutor's office in Tokyo, calling on it to make a full public enquiry into how deep the corruption runs within the whaling program. We're also calling for an end to the USD$4.7 million taxpayer subsidies for the program, and for the license of the company operating the whale hunt, Kyodo Senpaku, to be withdrawn.

The four-month Greenpeace investigation employed undercover tactics to reveal dramatic evidence of an embezzlement ring involving crewmembers on board the Nisshin Maru. Informers who spoke to the activists claim that senior crew and officials from Kyodo Senpaku turned a blind eye to the whale meat theft, allowing it to continue for decades. One informer associated with Kyodo Senpaku told Greenpeace that officials from the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) - the agency that carries out the so-called "scientific research" work on board the Nisshin Maru - are most likely aware of the thefts as well.



"The information we have gathered indicates that the scale of the scandal is so great, it would be impossible for the ship's operating company, Kyodo Senpaku, not to know," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan whale campaign coordinator. "Kyodo Senpaku is turning their back on large scale corruption and theft of taxpayers' money. What we need to know now, through a full public enquiry, is who else is profiting from the whaling programme? Who else has allowed this fraud to continue?" Sato added.

Working from information given by former and current Kyodo Senpaku employees, the Greenpeace investigators secretly documented the offloading of smuggled whale meat into a special truck, while Kyodo Senpaku officials and crew members stood by, following the Nisshin Maru's return earlier this year, on April 15th. Greenpeace then tracked the consignment from the ship to a depot in Tokyo.

Consignment label

Consignment sheet detailing, in Japanese, the contents of a crewmembers' personal box offloaded from the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru, containing 23.5 kilograms of stolen whale meat.  The sheet lists the contents of the box as "cardboard."

The house that stolen whale meat built

One of four boxes destined for the same private address was then intercepted, to verify the contents and establish the fraud. The consignment notes claimed the box contained "cardboard" - but in reality held 23.5kg of salted prime whale meat, worth up to US$3,000, hidden beneath overalls. One informer told Greenpeace that dozens of crew take as many as 20 of these boxes each, and said he overheard one crewmember claim to have built a house from the proceeds in stolen whale bacon alone.

To track down the final destination of this meat, activists visited pubs and restaurants in a number of different locations around Japan where they requested "special" meat and filmed the responses using hidden cameras. Traders and restaurant owners confirmed that they were expecting the imminent delivery of whale meat from this year's hunt, despite the fact that the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Institute of Cetacean Research do not release the whale meat for sale before the end of June, 2008.

The ongoing Japanese government-backed scientific whaling program, which takes place in the internationally-recognized Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, has been continually mired in controversy, lies and scandal, bringing Japan into international disrepute. This latest scandal begs the question of just who profits from a whaling program which generates no useful science, and is commercially unsustainable.

Scandals high and low: how high does this one go?


While the scandal of stolen whalemeat is the most shocking, it's not the only revelation to come from this investigation. Further allegations from our informants that require investigation include:

  • Throwing tons of whale meat overboard daily because they did not have processing capacity for the increased quotas
  • Cancerous tumours being found and cut out of whales and the remaining meat processed for public sale
  • Targeted hunts to ensure maximum catch, not random "sampling" as required by the research permits
  • Harsh working conditions because of the increased workload from the increased quotas

Download the full dossier

With Japanese society already bristling from a litany of public scandals involving recycling, food labelling, pensions, bid-rigging for public works and bribes for defence contracts, the whaling industry now joins the ranks of the dishonored, as well as earning the skepticism of an increasingly dubious business community, with business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai suggesting that "the stance of whaling hardliners could also be a vent for narrow-minded nationalism".


Earlier this year, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the whalers were struggling to pay back $1 billion Yen in borrowed public funds. With a massive 4,000 ton stockpile of unconsumed whalemeat and Asahi Shimbun reports of consumer disinterest in "bloody drippings", the whalers seem to be onto a sure loser. To make matters worse, the annual increase in targeted Southern Ocean whales means that supply is already outstripping demand, a situation "unthinkable for an ordinary business entity" according to the accountant of a major audit corporation quoted by the Asahi Shimbun.

"The whaling program in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is funded by the Japanese taxpayers and they have a right to know who is profiting from their money," commented Sato. "The Japanese whaling program has already been shamed internationally for its lack of scientific credibility, embarrassed by the generation of vast stockpiles of whale meat few want to eat and is now embroiled in a scandal at home for being corrupt. It is time for the whaling program to be stopped and public money spent on something more honorable." Sato concluded.


Take action

It will only take a minute to write a letter to the Japanese Prime minister demanding a full investigation into the scandal and for whaling permits to be revoked.



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