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Japan Continues Illegal Whaling Scheme

| Kelly D’Ambrogia
Topics: International Whaling Commission, Slaughter, Taiji, Japan, Whales, Whaling

Kelly D’Ambrogia is an intern with the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute and a student at the University of California at Berkeley.


Since 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has promoted a worldwide ban on whaling activities.  However on March 31, 2017, three whaling vessels returned to Shimonoseki, a whaling port in southwest Japan, with 333 dead minke whales aboard, the result of a recent whaling expedition.

For the last thirty years, Japan continued its whaling program by circumventing international sanctions on whaling and exploiting a loophole in the IWC’s ruling.  One of the exceptions to the moratorium on whaling allows countries to kill these creatures for “scientific research purposes”.  

Using the thin guise of scientific research, Japan has been able to justify their industrial whaling trips to the IWC, and then later turn around and sell the whale products in supermarkets and school lunches.  Through this loophole, Japan is able to capture and slaughter hundreds of whales each year, with no consequences.  This latest 4-month expedition to Antarctica is only the most recent development in a long history of circumventing international opposition to its industrial whaling operations.

Japan has been able to block action at the International Whaling Commission through the provision of bribes and other “gifts” to IWC delegations, particularly many Third World countries known for corruption and weak leadership.  Such actions have been described as “common knowledge” among IWC delegations and participants. 

In 2005, Japan began a whaling program known as JARPA II, which endured until 2014 and permitted Japanese whalers to whale in the waters near Antarctica.  Under JARPA II, Japan issued itself permits to kill 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 humpback whales each season for “scientific research” purposes, a practice especially horrible due to the fin and humpback whales being listed as endangered.   (The permits for humpback whales were threatened, but never used by the Japan government.  The Antarctic humpback population is very popular in Australia and other countries for whale-watching purposes.)   

The Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan, the non-profit organization in Japan that oversaw the program, claimed that the research purposes of the program were to monitor the Antarctic ecosystem, model competition among whale species, evaluate new methods to restore the cetacean ecosystem, and to estimate whale populations, which are overly broad and poorly defined objectives.  

However, in March of 2014, Japan’s whaling program briefly came to a halt when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled against Japan’s “scientific” whaling program in a 12 to 4 vote, and ordered the scientific permits to be revoked.  The resolution emphasized that the slaughter of thousands of whales by Japan was not at all reasonable in comparison to the fact that only two peer-reviewed publications have been published since 2005.  

There are so many new technologies for scientific research that do no harm to whales and other wildlife, that if the main goal of JARPA II had actually been for research, rather than a simple disguise for whaling, the “scientists” could have used any of dozens of non-lethal methods in order to produce actual, usable research to further whale conservation.

Defiantly, Japan outwardly rejected the ICJ’s ruling in October of 2015, saying that the ICJ’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”.  

To further its defiance, Japan decided to revamp the whaling program and introduced a new lethal scientific whaling program known as NEWREP-A.  Under this new program, Japan will be able to continue its whaling program and slaughter 333 minke whales each season.  The most recent whaling expedition to Antarctica, that returned on March 31, is a result of this new program.  Though the opposition to Japan’s new whaling program remains strong globally, neither the IWC nor the ICJ has been able to prevent Japan from whaling in the Antarctic.

Though the IWC hasn’t been able to impede Japan’s whaling program, other nations and international organizations worldwide are voicing opposition and taking action against this needless slaughter.  

In January 2017, members of the European Union signed a statement of concern voicing their opposition to Japan’s whaling program, and the U.S. Congress recently introduced a resolution expressing encouragement for Japan to end their whaling practice in response to the most recent whaling expedition.  We can expect other nations to follow suit in speaking out against this cruel practice at the next meeting of the IWC in 2018, and for the pressure on Japan to increase the closer we get to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.


Photo: Australian Customs Service file photo.