Commercial whaling has returned in Japan and whalers brought their first catches ashore Monday, despite criticisms from activists who claim the practice as “cruel and outdated.”

Japan has decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission. By Monday morning, about five vessels set sail and came back in the afternoon with their first catch after three decades, two grey minke whales.

“Today is the best day,” Yoshifuma Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, told AFP as the two giants were pulled ashore. “It was worth waiting for 31 years.”

Japanese fishermen on their whaling ships wait for departure at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture on July 1, 2019. – Japanese fishermen set sail on July 1 to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades after Tokyo’s controversial withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) triggered outrage from environmental groups. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Other vessels also left elsewhere, including in Shimonoseki in the west of the country. The Japanese whaling communities and government officials hailed the resumption of activities and could only hope for it to continue in the future.

“I’m a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling,” Hideki Abe, a whaler from Miyagi region in Japan, told AFP. “I don’t think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat any more. I want more people to try to taste it at least once.”

Many argue that whaling has been part of the Japanese tradition, which should not be part of any international interference.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency said it had set a cap for a total catch of 227 whales through the season until late December – 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales. However, the Humane Society International slammed the resumption of the activity.

“This is a sad day for whale protection globally,” Nicola Beynon, the group’s head of campaigns, said.

Head of Japan’s fisheries agency, Shigeto Hase, said whaling activities has been part of their “culture and way of life.”

Facing extinction

Out of all the whale species they are about to hunt, the sei whale is the most to face extinction. Sei whales are listed “endangered” on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The biggest of whales after the blue and the fin, Sei whale is also the lone species that Japanese whalers target for their “scientific” agenda from the early 200s until 2017.

Fishermen on a Japanese whaling ship prepare for its departure at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture on July 1, 2019. – Japanese fishermen set sail on July 1 to hunt whales commercially for the first time in more than three decades after Tokyo’s controversial withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) triggered outrage from environmental groups. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Meanwhile, Bryde’s and minke whales are “of least concern,” which mean they are not currently threatened with extinction. However, it does not mean for people to turn lax.

“There are two types of minke whale exploited off the coast of Japan,” Justin Cooke, a long-standing member of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) scientific committee and a member of the IUCN’s Cetacean Group, told AFP. “The one found in coastal waters – in the Sea of Japan, the East of China Sea and the Yellow Sea – is quite severely depleted due to a long history of catches by Japan and South Korea.”

He added that aside from being hunted down, many of those animals die after getting tangled with fishing gears and netting sets.

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