In the U.S., the price of whale meat could be time in prison. But having whale for dinner is perfectly legal in Japan, where whalers last week set out to hunt and kill the protected marine mammals despite international condemnation.
Whale meat is, of course, hard to come by these days. So how much is it worth in Japan? Not as much as it used to be.
Since the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling, Japan whalers have taken advantage of an exception for scientific research. They catch whales as part of what they call a research program and then sell the meat "byproducts" to consumers. How much that meat sells for depends on the number of whales caught, customer demand and the volume of meat stockpiles sitting in freezers around the country.
In 1985, there were more than 10,000 metric tons of wholesale whale meat for sale at the 10 major city markets in Japan at an average price of about $4 per kilogram, according to government data compiled by The Big Crunch. That was about the retail price of ground beef in the U.S. at that time.
By the early 1990s, fewer than 1,000 metric tons were for sale at those markets, costing more nearly $40 per kilo — more than the retail price of choice filet mignon today.