WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: A whale trapped in nets for almost three weeks has been drowned by Japanese fishermen, according to animal welfare campaigners who filmed the incident.
Footage shot on Monday morning (local time), in waters surrounding the town of Taiji, 415km southwest of Tokyo, shows two fishing boats either side of the minke whale.
The juvenile animal was named Hope by observers due to a belief it would be set free. This was not to be.
Instead, the air-breathing mammal can be seen having its tail tied to a boat with rope, forcing its head under water, and leaving it unable to breach.
Blood rises to the surface as the whale thrashes about.
Drowning took 20 minutes according to the animal welfare campaigner, who shot the video, Ren Yabuki from Japanese not-for-profit, Life Investigation Agency (LIA).
In the video, which was live-streamed on social media, Mr Yabuki can be heard saying “Fishermen killed minke whale, now. I’m so sorry”.
“Oh no. Oh Jesus.”
Whale trapped for almost three weeks in maze of nets
Tim Burns, from US-based charity Dolphin Project which has been working alongside LIA, told Yahoo News Australia it was a “sad ending” to the saga.
“It really seemed like they were considering options to release the whale,” he said.
“Then (on Monday) it was clear it was all over.”
The whale became trapped in fishing nets on Christmas Eve, and appeared to be disorientated by day six.
An attempt was made to free the whale after it was initially caught, but it remained trapped for a total of 19 days, with Mr Yabuki documenting its plight using a drone.
Before the animal’s death, observers were becoming increasingly worried about its welfare, sharing video of it trying to escape a maze of fishing nets, and reporting it had stopped eating.
International calls for whale to be set free ignored
After the whale was killed, it was placed under a blue tarpaulin and ferried to shore.
Reporting online by one source in Japan indicates that the whale has already been butchered and its meat sold in supermarkets.
The animal’s plight, first reported by Yahoo News Australia in December has garnered international attention as animal welfare groups campaigned for it to be released.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, after the whale had been killed, Mr Yabuki said the episode has left his “blood boiling”.
“I feel very sick. Very sad,” he said.
“I’ve been filming the moment of murder. My hands were shaking.”
‘Silent victims’: Call to end commercial whale hunting
Humane Society International has condemned the slaughter, with Australian based program manager Georgie Dolphin saying it is “inhumane” to entrap whales for prolonged periods.
She said while many whales are killed in Japan each year, it was rare for the act to be captured on video.
“While we mourn the tragic passing of this animal, we know that a similar brutal end comes to many more whales off the coast of Japan every year,” Ms Dolphin said in a statement.
“They are the silent victims of Japan's continued commercial whaling.”
The Japanese government’s quota for commercial whaling operations in 2021 is 383, which is the same as last year and this includes 171 minke whales.
Authorities allow for further 37 whales caught as by-catch to be slaughtered.
A moratorium on commercial whaling was enacted in 1982 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after whale numbers plummeted around the world, although Japan continued to kill whales for what it said were research purposes.
Japan withdrew from the IWC in 2019, and resumed commercial hunting within its territorial waters and exclusive international zone.
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