Wakayama, Jan. 18 (Jiji Press)–The landing of a minke whale that was trapped in fishing nets cast off the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan, has sparked controversy online.
Many opponents of whaling have lodged complaints about the move, although defenders say that similar incidents involving whales mistakenly being caught up in nets occur around the nation.
Whaling opponents had called on people through social media to contact the Fisheries Agency to request that the minke whale, trapped in the fixed fishing nets since Dec. 24 last year, be released.
The agency and the prefectural government were bombarded with emails and telephone calls, as their contact information had been distributed through the posts.
According to the prefecture, it received up to around 40 calls daily, impeding its ordinary duties. Some calls were threatening, it added.
The minke whale, which was 6.3 meters long, swam deep into the nets and became unable to free itself. It was landed on Jan. 11 this year.
The prefecture said that it was difficult to drive the whale out of the nets due to winds and tidal currents.
Boats other than certified whalers are banned from landing baleen whales such as minke whales. Exceptions are granted, however, if whales end up caught in fixed nets and affect fishing operations, although it is preferable that the bycatch be freed.
“This is nothing special, as there are over 100 cases in which whales trapped in nets are landed per year,” a Fisheries Agency official said.
“It is wrong to criticize Taiji fishers,” Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka told a press conference Wednesday. “I want those who learned about the issue on the internet to see the reality.”
“Wrong information that the whale was caught illegally is being spread,” the agency official complained.
The controversy came into the spotlight especially because Taiji is a world-famous whaling town. It became a target of criticism from whaling opponents after being featured in a foreign film that opposes the practice.
Some town residents have expressed confusion about the controversy, asking why only Taiji is subject to criticism.
Ren Yabuki, head of environmental nongovernmental organization Life Investigation Agency, had been spreading information about the minke whale online, taking images with drones, since the whale was found in the fishing nets. The NGO was an information source on the issue for many whaling opponents and foreign media organizations.
“I was watching dolphin-fishing when I happened to find the whale,” Yabuki, 47, said. “I am taking issue with fixed fishing nets as a whole, which pose a threat to whales, and not just Taiji.”