Japanese whaling has come under the spotlight in recent times more than ever before, and it seems the effect on may be to see it cease to function.

There has been mounting speculation that the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), the organisation that carries out lethal whaling research programmes on behalf of Japan, is facing financial ruin if they don’t get a massive government bailout very quickly.

That hand out is looking increasingly unlikely according to Pete Bethune of Earthrace Conservation, who has received leaked information passed onto him from within the ICR confirming it may be bankrupt within the next two months.

The information received by Bethune shows the ICR have recently requested that the Japanese government pay out over US$40m to the ailing organisation to keep it in business.

These dealings are all behind closed doors, but Bethune says his source feels so strongly that the Japanese taxpayers should be made aware that their government might be considering such action that they decided to approach him.

That the ICR finds itself in this difficult situation is unsurprising, says Bethune. In 2010, anti whaling protesters made the ICR’s lethal research programme headline news throughout the whole of Japan for the first time.

Demand for whale has been on a slow decline for some time with those tending to eat it being older men, while young people and women generally avoided it. Coincident with the additional widespread awareness of the whaling programme throughout the country, Japanese consumers were also becoming increasingly concerned about the high levels of mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) found in most whale meat.

Today, whale meat is cheaper than at any other time in the last 30 years. It is virtually the same price as beef. Yet despite the reduced prices, Japan still has a large stockpile of whale meat that it cannot sell, even at reduced prices to schools. It is no longer a premium product commanding high prices, but rather a discounted meat that Japanese consumers are shying away from.

Many are also now concerned that the continued lethal research program in Antarctica has placed Japan in a difficult political position, especially with New Zealand and Australia, both of which consider Antarctica as their dominion.

Now, on top of everything else that is making whaling and whale as food more unattractive than it has ever been before in the history of the country, the ICR has its hand out for a massive taxpayer bailout.

In years gone by, the Japanese government would simply hand over any required additional funding to the ICR but this year’s Tsunami and earthquake has changed the political and financial landscape in Japan forever.

The country is bleeding red ink, and it has countless projects far more deserving of $40 million. What is worrying the ICR according to Bethune’s source, is that there are now voices in government agreeing that keeping a dying industry afloat that is offensive to other countries and which results in whale mountains of wasted food, is not appropriate and could cause irreparable damage to Japan’s reputation both inside and outside it’s borders.

According to Bethune, everything is in alignment for a cessation of Japan’s lethal research program in Antarctica. Demand for the toxic meat is lower than it has ever been in living memory, the industry can only function with massive and continued government subsidies and those are looking more and more unlikely, and the industry alienates Japan from nations that in all other respects are their friends.

The one aspect the ICR are desperately counting on, but which Bethune’s source says even they are not convinced will stop the death knell for Japanese whaling is a reluctance on the part of Japan to give in and lose face to anti-whaling protest organisations like Sea Shepherd.

Governments are elected to make good and sometimes tough decisions on their people’s behalf, and Bethune says right now, the Japanese people need their government to make good decisions to save their economy. Feeding the ICR another $40 million is not one of them.