Meat from endangered fin whales caught by hunters from Iceland are being sold in Japan as luxury dog treats.
Michinoku Farms is selling the whale meat dog treats as a "low calorie, low fat, high protein" snack for dogs, according to conservation groups. The company also sells a variety of exotic meats for human and animal consumption, including horse, ostrich and various mammals.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and the Iruka & Kujira [Dolphin & Whale] Action Network (IKAN) expressed their alarm at the practice.
"The most likely reason for shops to sell the whale meat dog treat is to target affluent Japanese who want to show off their wealth with something different," said Nanami Kurasawa, IKAN's executive director.
IKAN representatives stated that the product description identifies the meat as being from fin whales of Icelandic origin and that its use in pet food suggests that new markets are being explored.
Michinoku’s website, which also sells pet goodies from kangaroos and Mongolian horses, sells three different sized packets of whale chews, with a 60 gram (2 oz) bag selling for 609 yen (U.S. $6) and a 500 gram bag for 3,780 yen ( U.S.$37).
Icelandic fin whales have been sold in Japan for human consumption since 2008. As Iceland prepares to hunt 180 fin whales in 2013 for this export market, environmental groups question the environmental and economic logic of using meat from an endangered species for the manufacture of dog treats.
IKAN representatives noted that while whale meat is losing popularity in Japan, many Japanese see the campaign against whaling as a symbol of cultural imperialism from the West and argue that it is a long standing tradition.
Because of a loophole in an international whaling ban, Japan can hunt whales for "research" purposes. Iceland openly defies the ban.
The fin whale is the largest animal after the blue whale, growing to 27.3 meters (89.5 ft) long and weighing nearly 75 tons.