Japan to relaunch whale hunts tomorrow, still insists it’s for ‘research’

  • Japan’s whaling fleet will kill as many as 333 minke whales per year over the next 12 years.

  • The hunt launching tomorrow will be the first since the International Court of Justice ruled in March 2014 that Japan’s research program was not scientific.

  • Japan has maintained all along that it is well within its rights to continue hunting whales, but many critics of the hunts are unconvinced.

Japan’s controversial whaling program will resume tomorrow when its fleet departs for a 3-month hunt in the Antarctic, officials announced today.

The whaling fleet will kill as many as 333 minke whales per year over the next 12 years if Japan carries out its current plans.

The hunt launching tomorrow will be the first since the International Court of Justice ruled in March 2014 that Japan’s research program did not comply with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, essentially saying the program did not meet rigorous enough scientific standards to warrant the killing of whales.

Japan still sent its research vessels to the Antarctic last year, but their activities did not include any lethal sampling.

Japanese officials devised a new scientific research program in response to the International Court of Justice order that Japan revoke all permits for the killing of whales and cease issuing such permits in the future. They say they’ve addressed the concerns raised about its previous research program, and claim that the specimens caught by Japan’s whaling fleet will be vital to the study of the health and migration patterns of minke whales.

The country’s announcement that the lethal whale hunts will resume came just days after Japan submitted its new research plan to the International Whaling Commission, according to the Associated Press. The IWC’s Scientific Committee concluded earlier this year that Japan had not demonstrated a necessity to kill whales for its research on management and conservation of whale stocks.

A group of 44 scientists from 18 countries signed a statement appended to the committee’s report saying that there was no scientific validity to Japan’s killing of whales for research.

Japan has maintained all along that it is well within its rights to continue hunting whales — a Japanese official said that the IWC Scientific Committee “does not have jurisdiction to approve or deny the research plan” in response to the committee’s findings, for instance.

But many critics of Japan’s whaling activities are unconvinced. They argue that the research program is nothing more than a means for circumventing the commercial whaling ban imposed by the IWC in 1986. Whale meat consumption is declining in Japan, but it is still considered a delicacy.

“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” Australian environment minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. The Australian government brought the case against Japan’s research program at the International Court of Justice.

Australia is reportedly considering sending a Customs and Border Protection Service patrol boat to the Antarctic, most likely to collect evidence of any illegal activities by the Japanese whaling fleet.

Japan is the only country that continues to hunt whales in international waters. Though some countries, most notably Norway and Iceland, have also continued whaling despite the commercial ban, they do so in their own waters. A number of Indigenous communities are exempted from the ban by the IWC.

A coalition of Japanese environmental and conservation groups including Dolphin & Whale Action Network, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace issued a statement strongly denouncing the new whale hunt proposed by Japan.

The groups say the new plan submitted by Japan to the IWC is the same plan that the commission’s expert panel already determined did not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling. The IWC itself has not had enough time to evaluate Japan’s new plan, and it’s unclear if the new research program adequately addresses the shortcomings identified by the International Court of Justice.

“We demand the government respect the international rules and not carry out any new research whaling program,” the groups said, “and instead take on new measures that contribute to ocean conservation.”

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A minke whale. Photo by Tom Benson.
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