Pictures have emerged of a freshly-caught whale being skinned, gutted and chopped up in Japan, a year after the country resumed whaling.
Fishermen killed the 34ft long Baird’s Beaked Whale earlier today in Wada Port, Chiba, and later winched it into a slaughterhouse where its meat was prepared for sale to shops and restaurants.
Whaling has long been a part of Japanese culture, with some coastal communities boasting 400 years of the hunt and many considering the meat to be a national delicacy.
It comes a year after Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) following a disagreement over fishing quotas, which allowed it to resume whaling for consumption.
Pictures show chunks of white fleshy meat waiting to be distributed after the whale was processed inside the slaughterhouse.
The mammal was cut open while still in the sea to allow blood to drain from its body, but more blood was washed away by workers as it was prepared.
After it was winched into the slaughterhouse, Sake, a Japanese liquor, was poured over the carcass as part of a ritual that both celebrates and purifies the catch.
Its head and skin was then removed before the chunks of meat were cut.
Countries belonging to the IWC agreed to pause whaling in 1986 to allow populations of whale to recover following centuries of excessive hunting.
This did not mean the country suddenly stopped whaling. Since 1987 Japan has continued under a clause that allowed whaling for scientific studies.
When Japan failed in 2018 to persuade the IWC to introduce sustainable quotas to let the country openly hunt for human consumption it decided to leave the organisation, effective from July 2019.
In the last 30 years Japan has killed between 200 and 1,200 whales.
After leaving the IWC the cap of 52 minke whales, 150 Bryde’s whales and 25 sei whales will be lower than the 333 cap set for last year’s research hunt.
It is a small industry in the country and employs around 300 people, with five whaling ships expected to set sail in July.
On July 1 last year whalers caught a 27-foot Minke whale after they headed out from a port in northern Japan’s Kushiro for the first time since leaving the IWC.
Hunting ‘will be conducted within Japan’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone’, Hideki Moronuki of the Japanese fishing ministry told the BBC a month before whaling resumed, meaning it could no longer catch whales in the Antarctic as it had been during its scientific hunts.
‘Today is the best day,’ Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, said at the time, as he watched the whalers bring their first whale ashore.
‘We were able to catch a good whale. It’s going to be delicious.’
‘My heart is overflowing with happiness, and I’m deeply moved,’ said Mr Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, addressing a crowd of several dozen politicians, local officials and whalers in Kushiro before the boats left.
‘This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my home town.’
Hideki Abi, a 23-year-old whaler from the Miyagi region in northern Japan, said he was ‘a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling’ before he left for the hunt last year.
He added: ‘I don’t think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat any more. I want more people try to taste it at least once.’
In its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, Japan is bound by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which asks states to ‘co-operate with a view to the conservation’ of whales and ‘in particular work through the appropriate international organizations for their conservation, management and study’.
Critics including Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have said there are no concrete plans yet to tackle the country over this.