Japan's Kyodo Senpaku replacing mothership, signaling continued commitment to commercial whaling

Tokyo, Japan-based Kyodo Senpaku is set to replace its aging mothership with a new model, signaling Japan’s continued commitment to whaling.

Kyodo Senpaku the only company in the world still employing the mothership system of whaling. The system uses more agile ships to hunt for whales, which then transfer carcasses onto a mothership for freezing and storage instead of bringing them to land-based storage facilities. Kyodo Senpaku’s soon-to-be-retired mothership, the Nishin Maru, returned from its final voyage on 4 November to its home port of Shimonoseki in the country’s southwest Yamaguchi Prefecture for a retirement ceremony, and on 7 November, the ship’s crew unloaded 2.1 metric tons (MT) of whale meat, which was auctioned off soon after.

The company’s replacement vessel, the Kangei Maru, still requires interior work but is slated to be ready by March, giving the company a buffer of time before the 2024 whaling season kicks off two months later in May.

Kyodo Senpaku originally carried out contractual whaling in Antarctica for the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research from 1987 to 2018, ostensibly for scientific research purposes.

However, after Japan pulled out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in December 2018 due to disagreements on the future of the whaling industry, the company rebranded as a full-blown commercial whaling corporation, and Japanese authorities stated that its fleet would be allowed to conduct commercial hunts solely within its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ), rather than in the Antarctic and North Atlantic as it had been doing prior.

The mothership method of whaling was conducive for distant-water whaling in remote Antarctica, but some question whether hunting for the current smaller quota of whales allowed within Japan’s EEZ will produce enough revenue to justify the construction of a large new vessel. Considering this, Kyodo Senpaku’s investment in a new mothership may hint that the company expects a potential uptick in future whaling allowed by the government.

The Japanese government could go about this in a few ways, including ... 

Photo courtesy of Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha

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