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Japanese Research Vessels Dock In Unalaska

Zoë Sobel


Unalaska welcomed two Japanese-flagged vessels to port this week — one devoted to Arctic research, the other connected to controversial commercial whaling.

The first is the Oshoro Maru V, a research vessel for Hokkaido University's school of fisheries sciences.


Professor Toru Hirawake is the chief scientist onboard.


"This ship is a training ship," said Hirawake. "There are many students choosing the many kinds of science."



During the two-month trip, Hirawake said students conducted oceanographic and fisheries surveys in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. They took water samples, trawled for plankton and fish specimens, and monitored marine debris. They even collected a few jellyfish for an aquarium in Osaka.


Why do Japanese researchers want to learn about the Arctic? Hirawake said climate change is a global issue.


"The Arctic Ocean is now a very hot place to investigate for all countries, including Asian countries," he said.


He said the changing environment will have an impact on Japan, even though it's not an Arctic nation. For example, Japan relies on Alaska seafood, including walleye pollock exported from Unalaska.


"We are now using such a big amount of the food from the United States, so climate change and sea ice decline is not only a problem for Arctic countries," he said. "It's also a problem for the Asian countries."


Credit Zoë Sobel / KUCB
The Yushin Maru No. 2 stopped in Unalaska this week as part of a survey for the International Whaling Commission. The vessel is also involved in controversial commercial whaling.

Meanwhile, Hirawake said the Oshoro Maru is not associated with the other Japanese vessel in port recently.

That was the Yushin Maru No. 2, one of a five-ship whaling fleet operated by the Japanese government.


Despite a 32-year international ban on commercial hunting, the vessels harvested more than 300 whales this spring in the name of ecological research. For years, critics have questioned the validity of that science and reported that the whale meat is sold commercially.


This week, however, the Yushin Maru was not passing through on a hunt.


KUCB was unable to connect with the vessel for an interview.


But according to a Japanese press release, it's in the middle of a Bering Sea survey for the International Whaling Commission. On a similar trip last year, researchers caught a rare glimpse of two North Pacific right whales and were able to take pictures and a biopsy sample.


Both the Oshoro Maru and Yushin Maru left Unalaska Monday afternoon.

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
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