Tag Archives: whaling

Japan’s new year resolution: resuming commercial whale hunting

In a largely disappointing move, Japan has announced that it will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and restart commercial whale hunting in 2019. The move has been blamed by other governments and conservation groups.

Two slaughtered Minke whales are dragged aboard Japan’s Nisshin Maru, the world’s only factory whaling ship. Image credits: Customs and Border Protection Service, Australia.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up right after World War II, in 1946, to “provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”. Tokyo representatives complained that the IWC did not allow the “orderly development” of the whaling industry. Simply put, Japan wanted to hunt more whales than it was allowed under the IWC.

“Regrettably, we have reached a decision that it is impossible in the IWC to seek the coexistence of states with different views,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement.

Japan’s whaling woes are not a new problem. Despite an international ban, Japan basically continued to hunt whales, using a scientific research permit as a cover-up. Despite rising international pressure, the country carried on and threatened that it would exit the IWC — which it now seems determined to do, having failed to convince the IWC to allow hunting campaigns.

“By withdrawing, our nation’s thinking in terms of cooperation with international marine resources management does not change,” Suga said. “We will participate in the IWC as an observer, and while maintaining ties to international organizations our nation will keep contributing to whale resources management based on scientific principles.”

The nearby countries of Australia and New Zealand both expressed strong disagreement with the decision, with Australia saying it is was “extremely disappointed”, while New Zealand called Japanese whaling an “outdated and unnecessary practice.”

Conservation groups have also expressed their disappointment at the announcement.

“By leaving the International Whaling Commission but continuing to kill whales commercially, Japan now becomes a pirate whaling nation killing these ocean leviathans completely outside the bounds of international law,” said Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International.

This essentially highlights a major ideological divide between Japan and other countries. Due to its proximity to the Antarctic, Japan’s whaling practices are considered dangerous to a very vulnerable ecosystem. There’s also a major ethical discussion since most whales are considered to be highly intelligent.

Meanwhile, Japan has historically been unable to ensure food self-sufficiency, now providing only around 40% of its nutritional needs. So the country stockpiles vast quantities of food, including 1.2 million tons of seafood. Out of these, 5,000 tons are whale meat, a food considered traditional by many. However, the demand for whale meat has been steadily declining, and the industry isn’t even sustainable — the Japanese government has had to invest $12 million into the 2008-09 Antarctic whale hunt alone just to break even.

From the outside, whaling seems like a declining and unsustainable industry, but the Japanese government seems determined to push it.

Sea Shepherd will continue to disrupt Japanese whaling ships, despite the US ruling they shouldn’t

Conservation group Sea Shepard Australia will continue to harass and disrupt Japan’s whaling efforts in the Southern Ocean, despite the US Supreme Court ruling that it’s technically piracy.

With a flag like this I’m sure they really are stickler for rules.
Image via Wikimedia.

After quite a bit of back and forth, the United States Supreme Court ruled that conservationist groups attacking Japanese whaling boats are essentially engaging in piracy, and should stop. The Japanese Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that this settlement declares that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was “permanently enjoined from physically attacking the [Japanese] research vessels and crew and from navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger their safe navigation.”

But, in a move that should surprise no one who’s ever seen their logo, Sea Shepherd’s Jeff Hansen said that the group will keep upholding the Australian federal court ruling that bans the slaughter of whales in the Australian sanctuary.

“[Sea Shepherd is] committed to upholding the Australian federal court ruling banning the slaughter of whales in the Australian whale sanctuary. We are not concerned about the US court settlement as it does not have any effect on Australian law,” he said.

Japan officially stopped its commercial whaling activities in 1987 following an international moratorium declared one year earlier. But they’ve continued whaling under the guise of its Institute of Cetacean Research, exploiting a loophole in the whaling ban despite international uproar. And it’s the Institute’s activity groups such as Sea Shepherd currently disrupt. The organization had sought an injunction in 2011 in a US court to stop Sea Shepherd hindering its whaling program.

Japanese whalers captured 333 minke whales in the Antarctic in the most recent season, which ended in March, but did not face any obstructive activities from the anti-whaling group. This was the first whale hunt since the 2014

The hunt was the first since the international court of justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s “research whaling” program in the Southern Ocean contravened the moratorium.

Japan resumes whaling despite international ban

The island nation has recently announced that it will resume whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean with the purpose of collecting “scientific data.” The decision was met with outrage and heavy criticism by other countries and conservation groups.

Minke Whales
Image via flikr

The IWC commissioner for Japan, Joji Morishita, announced in a series of new documents to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that his nation is resuming whaling operations in the Antarctic (or Southern) Ocean starting 2016, with a target of some 333 minke whales per year. All in the name of scientific progress, they claim:

“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,” Japan’s whaling research plan states.

Japan’s in no way, shape or sense new to whaling — their previous operations in the Antarctic Ocean were ended after the International Court of Justice ruled against them in March 2014. While Japan claimed that its whaling in this region was justified under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling on grounds of scientific research, the court found that the research output from almost a decade, two studies based on nine whale specimens, was woefully insufficient for justifying the program and the scale of the slaughter.

“In light of the fact the [research program] has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited,” said presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia during the ruling.

So the international community shut the whaling program down for good, they thought. But Japan now announced that it will keep on whaling regardless of the ICJ’s ruling with a new, amended program that plans for the killing of only 1/3 of the whales that their initial program had planned.

However, let’s be serious — it’s hard to justify a scientific program that requires the killing of 333 whale specimens per year. Japan’s decision has been met with outrage from conservation groups and representatives of other nations who are party to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

“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. “Japan cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the [scientific] questions. 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.”

Adding his voice to the critics is Tokyo-based historian Jeff Kingston, who wrote for The Japan Times saying that Japan’s resumption of whaling flouts the rule of law and would have negative repercussions outweighing any potential upsides for the country’s whaling industry.

“Whaling advocates in the Japanese government may think they are justified on cultural and culinary grounds, but they are harpooning ‘Brand Japan.’ Japan’s scientific argument for the resumption of whaling was examined and found wanting by two international panels of experts,” he wrote.

“Moreover, 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.”

It’s not yet clear what the repercussions will be for the island nation, but we’re likely to see the world’s reply to Japan’s whaling program soon.

UN court rules against Japan whaling

In what may be a  historic decision, the UN’s top court has ordered Japan to stop its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected Tokyo’s arguments that whaling has scientific purposes, in a case which many believe will shape the future of the giant mammals.

“Japan shall revoke any existant authorisation, permit or licence granted in relation to Jarpa II [research programme] and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance to the programme,” the International Court of Justice’s Judge Peter Tomka said on Monday.

This decision was backed by almost the entire scientific community – there is no real need to use lethal methods here. Even if dead whales were somehow necessary, thousands of whales strand themselves on beaches worldwide each year – providing more than enough study naterial. But in fact, this entire “scientific” operation is merely a front for a commercial operation.

The situation was ignited when Australia asked the world court to order Japan to stop its JARPA II research programme and revoke “any authorisations, permits or licences” to hunt whales in the region. Tokyo defended itself, arguing that the operation has a scientific purpose – probably because it was the only reason they could invoke, they really have no excuse here.

Since 1988 Japan has slaughtered more than 10,000 whales under the programme, but thankfully, this will now be stopped. The decision was almost unanimously hailed. Writing for The Guardian, Karl Mathiesen says:

Today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) displayed a level of resolution and common sense rarely seen in global decision making. While they declined to assess the scientific merit of the programme, the judges found that Japan’s activity was inconsistent with a nation solely interested in whale research. The conclusion was that the Japanese whaling research programme, Jarpa II, is simply a front for a not very successful commercial operation.

Japanese minister says he sees no end to whaling

Japan will never stop its annual hunt for whales, a government minister has reportedly said, despite recent clashes between whalers and environmental organizations.


A whale and calf being loaded aboard a factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. The sign above the slipway reads, “Legal research under the ICRW”. Australia released this photo to challenge that claim. Via Wikipedia

“I don’t think there will be any kind of an end for whaling by Japan,” Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Japanese minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said in an interview with the French news service Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

He argued that Japan has “a long tradition and culture of whaling,” taking once again a pro-whaling position.

“In some countries they eat dogs, like Korea. In Australia they eat kangaroos,” he was cited as saying. “We don’t eat those animals, but we don’t stop them from doing that because we understand that’s their culture.”

The interview comes just after an environmental group tried to physically block whalers – a US judge has declared their actions as “piratery”.

Japan’s whaling began in the 12th century, but in modern times it changed drastically. Japan maintains that annual whaling is sustainable and necessary for scientific study and management of whale stocks, despite not providing any valid scientific evidence to support this; they just sugarcoat it as “research”. Many countries (especially nearby Australia) have been especially vehement against this practice, but the Japanese seem adamant to continue this practice. What do you think? Is this a traditional, cultural and legit practice, or is it nothing more than whale slaughtering, hidden under a big sign that says “research”?