A whale research group is seeking to collect information about public performances in which small whales were cut up for meat in the 1970s and 1980s before a surge of international anti-whaling movements.
Commissioned by the city of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Whale Laboratory began looking into such performances five years ago, aiming to keep records of what it says was part of the culture of the Showa period (1926-1989).
(Whale dissection show held in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, in 1981)[Photo courtesy of Whale Laboratory]
"Almost no records are left and it is difficult to understand the whole picture. We are asking for any information, however trivial it seems," said Hajime Ishikawa, the 58-year-old chief of the laboratory, who is trying to collect data based on the memories of participants and organizers of the performances.
According to Ishikawa, a short-finned pilot whale around 4 meters long was cut up in a typical performance. Such events began as a way for whale meat dealers to promote sales at supermarkets on the back of the low market values of small whales at that time.
(Nagasaki Prefecture in the 1980s)[Photo courtesy of Whale Laboratory]
The shows, believed to have been held at least 1,000 times mainly in the Kansai region of western Japan, attracted a large number of visitors, Ishikawa said.
The prices of short-finned pilot whales spiked after Japan withdrew from commercial whaling in 1988 amid tightened restrictions on whale catches.
A performance held on the roof of an Osaka department store in the 1990s may have been the final demonstration, according to Ishikawa. A short-finned pilot whale that fetched 6 million yen ($53,400) in an auction is said to be transported to the venue by a helicopter in the event, but that information has not been verified.
(Narashino in 1981)[Photo courtesy of Whale Laboratory]