TOKYO: He once wielded a knife on the deck of a Japanese whaling ship, slicing apart the behemoths of the ocean in the name of ”scientific research”, while much of the rest of the world looked on in horror.Now, as Japan pushes to overturn the 24-year ban on commercial whaling, the former whaler is alleging widespread criminality among the men with whom he spent months in the freezing waters of the Antarctic.The crewmen, sent every year to slaughter the mammals for research that Japan says is vital to our understanding of whale populations, are instead seizing and selling prized cuts of meat to earn extra cash and, in at least one case, earn many more times their annual salary, says the whaler-turned-whistleblower who refers to himself as ”Kujira-san” (Mr Whale), a precaution necessitated by a fear for his safety.”Even before we arrived in the Antarctic Ocean,” he says of a recent expedition, ”the more experienced whalers would talk about taking whale meat home to sell. It was an open secret. Even officials from the Institute of Cetacean Research [a quasi-governmental body that organises Japan’s whaling program] on the ship knew what was happening, but they turned a blind eye to it.”Kujira-san, who worked aboard the mother ship Nisshin Maru, saw crew members helping themselves to prime cuts of whale meat and packing them into boxes they would mark with doodles or pseudonyms to identify them when the vessel reached port.”They never wrote their real names on the boxes.”Some whalers would take home between five and 10 boxes, he said, and one secured as many as 40 boxes of prime meat that fetches ¥20,000 ($250) a kilogram when sold legally. One crew member built a house with the profits from illicitly sold whale meat, he said. ”They were careful to select only the best cuts.”Kujira-san painted an unpleasant picture of life at sea, and said newcomers were badly treated by more experienced whalers, fuelled by a machismo culture that is disappearing from other parts of the fishing industry.He contradicted Japan’s claims that the industry, which reportedly requires heavy government subsidy, is highly efficient. The fleet would sometimes catch more whales than necessary, he said, strip them of their most expensive parts and throw what was left overboard.”A lot of meat was being thrown away because we kept catching whales even after we had reached our daily quota. I decided I had to tell someone what was happening.”He sought help from Greenpeace. In 2008 the organisation opened an investigation into embezzlement by the crew of the Nisshin Maru, during which two activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, intercepted a box containing 23 kilograms of whale meat worth about ¥350,000 at a warehouse in Japan that they later presented as evidence.After initially agreeing to act on their claims, prosecutors dropped the case, and instead, Mr Sato and Mr Suzuki were arrested and charged with theft and trespassing.Last week prosecutors called for an 18-month jail term for the pair, who were held without charge for 23 days and interrogated while strapped to chairs without their lawyers present. A ruling is expected in the next few months.Kujira-san’s allegations come as the International Whaling Commission prepares to meet in Morocco next week to discuss a proposal that could end the moratorium on commercial whaling in return for whaling nations agreeing to smaller quotas. Before the meeting, Japan has reverted to its tactic of using aid to sway small islands and landlocked nations to vote with it in the 88-member body.Under the moratorium, Japan is permitted to catch fewer than 1000 whales, mainly minke, in the name of scientific research. Meat from the cull is sold on the open market and the profits used to fund whaling expeditions.Kujira-san said he would continue to campaign behind the scenes until the Japanese public knew the truth. ”I dread to think what the other whalers would do to me if they knew who I was.”Guardian News & Media
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