Organizations such as the Sea Sheppard Society have brought a great deal of attention to the whale slaughters carried by Japanese whaling fleets through various campaigns and the Whale Wars show that documented the fight against these whaling vessels to keep the quickly disappearing whale populations alive. However, little attention has been drawn to the other war that Japan has waged against whales through the unregulated kills associated with bycatch.
Bycatch includes any species of marine life that is killed or captured during a hunt or fishing expedition that is not the target species and is often deemed as 'unusable' for one reason or another. Either the species is not of allowed to be sold on the open market for legal reasons or is too small, too injured, etc. to be of any use to the fisherman. Because of the devastating and careless methods of fishing used by most fleets such as trawling and dredging, the commercial fishing industry is not only draining the oceans of every single fish possible but it is taking dolphins, turtles, sharks, crabs, sea birds, star fish, and anything else that gets in its way as well including already endangered whales.
A study performed by researchers at the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University examined DNA evidence that revealed that the Japanese fishing fleets were killing just as many whales that were labeled under the guise of bycatch as their whaling fleets were killing. This information was recently presented to the rather lax International Whaling Commission (IWC) as further proof of Japan's illegal whaling activity since over 46 % of the whale meat that was analyzed proved to be from a population protected under the international whaling bands and are considered illegal to hunt and trade under the IWC's regulations as well as the regulations which govern the hunt and sale of endangerd species and products made from endangered species. To spite the regulations and protests from the international community, Japan continues in its assault on whales, killing the endangered species irregardless of international efforts to protect them. Several species of illegal whales were detected including minke whales, humpback whales, fin whales and the western gray whales which are listed as critically endangered on the Red List of endangered species. With only around a 100 individual western gray whales remaining these findings are even more troublesome.
These findings are of particular concern as Japan furthers its fight to create a full blown commercial whaling program and to end the international band. While Japanese authorities are insisting that these kills are merely bycatch and accidental, the large financial rewards bring such claims under scrutiny.
Hopefully this report will help shed light on the problem of Japan's illegal whaling industry and encourage the IWC and other nations to take serious measures to shut down the Japanese fleets that are hunting the whales to extinction.