Japan Flouts International Law, Resumes Whaling in the Antarctic

Japan's whaling fleet will leave port tomorrow for the Antarctic with plans to kill up to 333 minke whales per year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary under the guise of "scientific research."

Japan's move spurns international law and mocks science.

Although the International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a moratorium against commercial whaling that went into effect in 1986, Japan has for years exploited a loophole in the ban that allows for the lethal take of whales for "scientific research purposes." Between 1986 and 2013 alone, Japan killed over 13,000 whales to "study them." Japan does not hide the fact that the meat from these "research" whales is then butchered, with the hope of selling it commercially.

By Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, CC BY-SA 3.0 au

The United Nations' top court ruled last year that Japan's so-called scientific whaling program in the Southern Ocean was anything but scientific. The International Court of Justice ordered Japan to revoke all permits and "license[s] to kill" in the Antarctic and refrain from granting any new permits.

The case was a huge victory for whale conservation. It should have protected thousands of whales from being slaughtered under the guise of science. It should have meant that whales will be safe in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Instead, it's being flouted.

Japan originally agreed to abide by the decision - and even halted its 2014-2015 hunt. But in a disappointing reversal, last month it released a special declaration saying it does not recognize the UN court's authority over whaling. Specifically, that the court's jurisdiction "does not apply to ... any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea."

Japan also revamped its so-called scientific whaling program.

Under the latest whaling plan, called NEWREP-A, Japan plans to kill nearly 4,000 minke whales over the next 12 years - beginning now.

The IWC's Scientific Committee - the world's premiere whale experts - reviewed Japan's new whaling plan and found it lacking.

A special panel of IWC experts affirmed in January 2015 that Japan's new whaling plan failed to offer enough scientific evidence to justify killing whales. In May 2015 the IWC's Scientific Committee was not able to agree on the plan, and 44 members of the Scientific Committee from 18 different countries signed a statement saying there was no justification for killing whales for research.

Japan's new whaling plan has also been widely rejected by the broader international scientific community. Nearly 500 scientists from around the world specializing in non-lethal research and conservation sent a letter to the IWC stating that scientific whaling is the result of "commercial and political interests, meant to consolidate the illegitimate appropriation of valuable Antarctic living marine resources, seriously undermining science."

The scientists reflect that Japan has already killed over 13,000 whales to "study them" and pose a poignant question: "will killing over 300 whales a year provide the answers that the program has not been able to provide so far? It will not."

There is no scientific or legal justification for Japan's resumption of "scientific" whaling, and it must be stopped.

Photo credit: By Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, CC BY-SA 3.0 au

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

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