The Japanese diet has traditionally relied heavily on seafood for protein and, for centuries, the harvesting of these resources has involved the killing marine mammals.

From around 1606, the catching of large whales was already common practice in the waters around the fishing town of Taiki. By the second half of the twentieth century, Japan had the largest commercial whaling fleet in the world.

Japan's role in the over-exploitation of several species of whales has made it the focus of intense international criticism. Much of this has proven bewildering to a society which, by and large, does not share the same degree of sensitivity as its critics towards marine mammals and which regards cetaceans as resources to be harvested in much the same way as fish.

The over-exploitation of larger whale species led to the imposition of a commercial whaling moratorium. As a result, Japan has been limited to hunting a relatively small number of minke whales for 'scientific' purposes. In recent years, an increasing number of dolphins and porpoises have been taken in Japanese coastal fisheries, generating a controversy which echoes the outcry over the dolphin kills at Iki island in the 1970s.

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