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Japan’s Startling New Whaling Policy

| By Mark J. Palmer, International Marine Mammal Project
Topics: International Whaling Commission, Whales, Whaling

On December 26th, the Japanese government announced a startling new policy on commercial whaling and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the announcement, but the hand of Japan’s conservative Prime Minister Abe was clearly behind the decision.

Japan’s government proposes to:

(1) Drop out of the IWC completely.  Japan has threatened to leave the IWC for decades.  This step, in the words of Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, will make Japan a pirate whaling nation.

(2) Allow commercial whaling, in defiance of the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling, for three whale species: minke, Bryde’s and sei whale species, but only within Japan Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 miles and other territorial waters.   Japan was recently sharply criticized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for allowing the killing of sei whales, an endangered species.  At least one population of minke whales off the Japan coast is also seriously depleted.

(3) Japan will cease “research” whaling, which most observers consider just a cover-up for commercial whaling.

(4) Japan will also cease whaling in the waters of Antarctica.  This is a surprise, as the Antarctic area has the most abundance of whales in the world, despite years of depletion from commercial whaling.  Japan’s “research” fleet killed 333 minke whales in the Antarctic last season (which included 122 pregnant females), and the whaling vessels are in the Antarctic now conducting what one presumes is the last season for Japanese hunts in that region.  Reportedly, Japan’s whalers are not happy with this decision to drop the Antarctic whaling grounds.

There are further rumors that the Abe government, in ending the government-funded “research” whaling, will expect Japan’s commercial whalers to be self-supporting.  It remains to be seen if this indeed is what the Japan government does, as such subsidies are extremely popular with many members of Parliament seeking support from local Japanese rural communities.  Because so few people eat whale meat in Japan, a great deal of the meat from past hunts has wound up frozen in freezer warehouses, unable to be sold.

Contamination of whale and dolphin meat will be a problem for the government, as whales in the Northern Hemisphere are exposed to more chemical pollutants, like mercury and PCBs, than are whales in Antarctica.

Japan will also be vulnerable to economic sanctions from the US under the Pelly Amendment and Packwood/Magnuson Amendments.  However, it will be up to the Trump Administration to issue such sanctions, an unlikely scenario. 


The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of Earth Island Institute remains strongly committed to ending all whaling and dolphin killing by Japan.  We’ve worked for years at the IWC, helping conservation organizations and sympathetic governments block attempts by Japan to end the moratorium and allow commercial whaling.   The decision by Japan to cease whaling in Antarctica ends the last whaling operations in that vast area, and provides a welcome respite to the many whale species there, especially the primary target of Japan’s so-called “research” whaling, the minke whale.

We are seeking to use the publicity surrounding the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to urge the Japan government to finally end the killing of whales and dolphins permanently.


Please Sign the Petition.


Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.