Shocking images of the first whales caught today show the marine mammals sliced open, exposing their guts and hanging lifeless from boats.
As conservationists today slammed the resumption of whaling as cruel, many ask why is it important to Japan?
What is whaling?
It is the practice of killing and hunting whales mostly for human consumption.
The practice was banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986 after some species were almost driven to extinction.
It was expected by countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland that more sustainable ways of carrying out the practice would be introduced – but the IWC is yet to find an alternative.
Japan, which had been a member of the body since 1951, decided to withdraw and announced in January that it would start whaling again.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation today criticised Japan’s move to resume the practice.
CEO, Chris Butler-Stroud, told Metro.co.uk: ‘WDC strongly opposes and condemns the Japanese government’s resumption of commercial whaling outside of the IWC and outside of international oversight.
‘Commercial whaling is still banned by the IWC because the international community has not been persuaded that whales can, or should be hunted.’
Why is it important to Japan?
The country has been whaling for hundreds of years and the government insists eating whale is an important part of Japan’s food culture.
Taiji, a western town in the Higashimuro District, was a famous town known for whaling but gained notoriety for also hunting dolphins.
The town still has a whaling ship which is taking part in today’s hunt.
Whale later became more widely available in the 60s, after the Second World War.
It became the biggest source of meat during a period when the nation was starving during a severe food shortage.
Many say it is nostalgic for older generations, who remember being fed the meat for school lunches.
Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish, with its cuisine revolving around sushi.
But competition in the waters is increasing and the government is feeling pressure to continue whaling to offer something less widely available on the market.
A lack of domestic food produce has also been of concern to officials.
Only around 40 percent of the calories the average Japanese person consumes every day is domestically produced, according to the country’s Agriculture Ministry data.
Some officials from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party also fear that if they stop whaling, they will also be forced to stop hunting for other fish, such as tuna – one of the nation’s biggest imports and exports.
Mr Butler-Stroud argued there is practically no demand for the meat and argued it was a political move.
‘The Japanese fisheries ministry has set a quota for the season of 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales,’ he said.
‘Yet, there is practically no demand for whale meat in Japan, so this hunt is not only going against the direction of accepted international law, but also is not needed.
‘Indeed this move is more about propping up a nationalistic agenda by Japan’s leaders, with whaling being a political constituency issue for the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies.’