Nature

Japan to Resume Whaling, Sparks International Outrage

December 1, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

A whale is captured by the Yushin Maru, a Japanese harpoon vessel.
Photo credit: Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In order to achieve conservation?  Right…

Japan has once again sparked international outrage over the resumption of its whaling operations — a clear violation of international law.  

Japan’s whaling operations in the Antarctic were ruled unjustified by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) back in March 2014.  The court based their ruling on the research delivered by Japan in the last 10 years, where 666 research papers were written. However only two out of the 666, which looked at nine whale specimens, were peer reviewed.  This minimal amount of scientific data provided did not warrant the death of 3,600 whales.  The International Whaling Community (IWC) has also said the whaling was not justified.

A moratorium on commercial whaling was put into effect in 1986; however, Japan tried to justify its whaling on research grounds under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which excludes whale hunting based on research from the moratorium.

In lieu of this ruling in 2014, Japan has created a new program called, “New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean”, which is being launched today (December 1).  An IWC representative, who requested anonymity, said that when the committee reviewed Japan’s new plan, “they didn’t agree whether the research Japan was proposing required lethal research or whether you could do it using nonlethal methods, for example, DNA.”

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But let’s be honest here, this “plan” is likely a cover for commercial whaling.  

“In order to achieve conservation of [Antarctic] resources while pursuing their sustainable utilisation and to understand and predict the effects of factors such as climate change, it is scientifically imperative to obtain an accurate understanding of many aspects of the Antarctic marine ecosystem including its animals and their dynamics through collection, accumulation, and analysis of scientific data,” the plan states.

Japan plans on killing 333 Minke whales per year for 12 years under the new plan.  “We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” said Greg Hunt, Australia’s minister for the environment. “There is no need to kill whales in the name of research. Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans.”

Japan is not the only country that hunts whales, but they did form a scientific whaling programme immediately after the ban in 1986.  Norway and Iceland continue commercial whaling — Norway resumed whaling in 1993, only seven years after the ban took effect, and Iceland resumed in 2005, so far killing 148 endangered Fin whales.  Norway is hunting a higher proportion of breeding Minke females, which could put the long term survival of Minke whales in jeopardy, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Japan is the only country in the world that has whaling operations in the Antarctic.  Japanese experts say that the government is damaging the county’s reputation, and that the negative repercussions of this decision will outweigh any potential upsides.

According to Tokyo-based historian Jeff Kingston, “In terms of Japan’s global public image, whaling is a losing proposition. It’s a diplomatic scarlet letter that negatively influences public opinion in Europe, North America and Australia over a program that uses taxpayer money to kill something that hardly anyone craves — all for the sake of a national identity that few embrace.”

Conservation group Sea Shepherd, which have sent boats every year to disrupt the whaling, warned Japan that a return to whaling would be illegal.  “We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd,” said chief executive Alex Cornelissen.  “As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act.”

It is safe to say this is not the last we will hear about this.  How the rest of the world responds… we will find out soon.

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