Tensions are mounting as calls for Japanese fishermen to release a whale caught in a maze of fishing nets for almost a week are ignored.
A local drone operator first noticed the small whale on Christmas Day, caught in nets set in Taiji, 415km south-west of Tokyo.
He was there to document the country’s largest annual dolphin and whale slaughter, however he believes the minke whale was not caught intentionally as these nets were intended for fish.
As the whale entered a sixth day trapped in the nets, animal welfare advocates from across the globe including Dolphin Project, Humane Society International (HSI) and Life Investigation Agency have renewed calls for its swift release.
HSI program manager Georgie Dolphin said watching the whale fight to leave the nets is “soul-destroying”.
“The minke whale must be increasingly distressed and should not have to endure such unnecessary suffering,” she added.
“Given inaction by the Taiji Fisheries Cooperative so far, we implore the Japan Fisheries Agency to step in to release this whale.”
‘Big concern’: Observers worry about whale’s failing health
Animal welfare advocates are concerned the mammal’s health is declining and the fight to release it has turned physical.
With the group responsible for the net, Taiji Fisheries Cooperative, believed to be going on vacation over the New Year period, Tim Burns from activist group Dolphin Project is worried the whale will perish.
“A big concern is that as of yesterday, the footage is showing that the whale is becoming much more aggravated,” Mr Burns told Yahoo News Australia.
“It’s swimming in much tighter circles, it’s started deep diving, trying to push into the nets.
“It’s obviously aware that the nets are there, but it can’t find any way out, so it’s not feeding, and it can’t follow its instinctual migration because it’s stuck in this little tiny area.”
Campaign turns physical as tensions mount
This is the second whale that Ren Yabuki from Life Investigation Agency has documented caught in the nets in as many months.
A large humpback whale was caught on November 29, and later freed after its plight garnered international attention.
After calling Taiji Fisheries Cooperative on December 27 about the minke whale and getting no response, Mr Yabuki decided to walk to the group’s office.
With his camera running, he approaches an older man he believes to be a representative of the cooperative, pleading with him to release the whale.
In Japan’s traditional fishing industry, age is particularly important, and the protest from the younger, 47-year-old activist is not received well.
While Mr Yabuki’s language remains honorific, the older man talks down to his adversary.
Voices are quickly raised, with the fisherman accusing Mr Yabuki of drawing unwanted attention to the “secret” location of his net.
“Didn’t you film the nets, isn’t that prohibited?” the man says in Japanese.
“So you’re telling us to stop fishing?”
The older man’s pink-gloved hand can then be seen swinging across the camera, allegedly hitting the activist’s nose in the process.
Mr Yabuki threatens to call the police as the fisherman tells him to go ahead.
Attempts by Yahoo News Australia to contact Taiji Fisheries Cooperative by telephone ahead of deadline have been unsuccessful.
At the time of publishing, the whale remains trapped in the nets.
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