Antarctic minke whale caught be Japanese vessel, the Yushin Maru, in 2008. Photo by: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
Last year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan must halt its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean as it found no evidence that the killing of hundreds of Antarctic minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) was scientifically justified. The ruling sent Japan scrambling for a new plan to continue its ‘scientific’ whale hunt, which critics argue is simply an excuse to kill whales for commercial meat. But, now an expert panel with the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has rebuked Japan’s latest plan as well.
“The current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling,” the expert panel concluded.
In the report, Japan argued that it planned to continues its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean to compile demographic data on Antarctic minke whales. The country intends to use the data to make the case for a sustainable, commercial hunt in the future. Japan also argued that the whale hunt would improve scientific understanding of the Antarctic ecosystem. Both of these objectives were outlined by the ICJ ruling, yet the IWC expert panel remained unconvinced over the need for “lethal sampling” to better understand whales and the general ecosystem.
In its newest plan, Japan cut its whaling quota by nearly 65 percent. Before the ICJ ruling, Japan targeted 935 Antarctic minke whales every year, but it’s newest plan dropped that target down to 333 whales annually for the next dozen years.
The expert panel’s rebuke doesn’t mean Japan’s whaling is at an end in the Southern Ocean. Japan said it will take the panel’s findings into account prior to an IWC scientific meeting in San Diego in May. Japan’s commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita, said the country still hopes to begin whaling by the end of the year.
Even as Japan’s whaling has been halted in the Southern Ocean this year, the country continues to conduct whaling in the Northwest Pacific where it targets species like sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Byrde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei), and the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
The IWC has placed a global ban on whaling since 1986. However, a number of countries continue to hunt whales: Iceland and Norway, for example, have lodged formal complaints against the moratorium and conduct annual whaling operations. Japan’s whaling has been under the auspices of scientific research. A number of indigenous groups are also allowed to continue whaling in small numbers.