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More Notes On The Whale People

Satoshi Kataoka

My memory of Omishima was not as good as I predicted. I was supposed to meet Mr Kazuhiro in an old restaurant but I lost my way and ended up being late. I quickly settled down for dinner. There were a few pieces of sashimi left on the plate and he gestured to me to finish the remaining pieces, which were of a deep red colour.

I wondered what I was eating because the food was not like any kind of sashimi I had eaten before. Surprisingly, there was also a piece of strawberry, thinly sliced, among the pieces of meat.

Sensing my confusion, Mr Kazuhiro said of the next piece I picked up: “It’s beef.”

Chewing slowly, I said: “It tastes like the cow grew up in the sea.”

“Ah, that must be kujira (whale),” he said.

Picking up another piece of meat, he said: “This is the beef sashimi. And all those are strawberries.

“You put them together, like this. Eat it, it’s good. This is the only place left that serves this food.”

He then wrapped the layers of sashimi around one another, forming the shape of a rose, before popping the beautiful formation into his mouth.


Whaling is a controversial practice in the world. Anti-whalers argue that the practice is environmentally unsustainable and that whales should not be hunted because they are intelligent and social creatures that undergo a higher level of suffering than other animals. Meanwhile, pro-whalers say that whale stocks have recovered and lobby for quotas instead of a flat-out ban. Japan is one of the most vocal and influential pro-whaling countries, arguing that it is ecologically irresponsible to fight against sustainable whaling because by protecting charismatic animals at the top of the food chain, we create imbalances in the ecosystem and deny people access to cheap and healthy food.

The debates still rage on strongly and are heated up by sensitive issues of national sovereignty. There is still a continuing battle on exactly how endangered various species of whales are.

A lot of the discussion hinges on misinformation, inflammatory tactics and emotional appeal. The whiteness of a whale explores some of these strategies by producing narratives — using notions of cultural memory, the fetishisation of an animal above others and the politicisation of science.

Satoshi Kataoka is an artist and writer based in New York. She is the author of Rites: The Performance In Activism (New York: New Press 2008).



Copyright 2010, Institute of Critical Zoologists