Is Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean finally coming to an end?

File photo: A whaler aboard Japanese ship Yushin Maru No. 3 uses a rifle to shoot a harpooned and dying minke whaleFile photo: A whaler aboard Japanese ship
Yushin Maru No. 3 uses a rifle to shoot a
harpooned and dying minke whale
Photo: Sea Shepherd
We may be one step closer to knowing the answer this Friday, when the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is scheduled to issue an opinion on whether Japan’s latest whaling plan qualifies as “scientific research.”

In February, a 10-person expert panel selected by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, including four U.S. representatives, took the bold step of rejecting Japan’s latest whaling plan, finding that it lacks a legitimate scientific basis. Following a meeting in Tokyo, the panel issued a report finding that Japan “does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling” to meet its research objectives.

In the wake of this rebuke, however, the Japanese government issued a statement indicating that its opinion was unchanged that it had “demonstrated the need for lethal sampling.” Japan’s whaling fleet is scheduled to return to the Southern Ocean to kill whales during the 2015-2016 season.

Sea Shepherd expects that the full Scientific Committee will back the findings by its expert panel, and recognize that there is no justification for killing whales in the modern era. All scientific data on whales can be obtained through non-lethal research methods, such as biopsy sampling, satellite tracking, and DNA analysis. Nevertheless, since the global whaling moratorium took effect in 1986, Japan has used the “scientific research” exception as a thinly veiled justification for killing thousands of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – and then selling their meat on the commercial market.

As Sea Shepherd said in a statement to the media regarding the upcoming opinion from the Scientific Committee:

By now, the IWC scientific committee and indeed the entire world knows that Japan’s so-called “research" is purely for commercial purposes, and while Japan has slaughtered thousands of whales under the guise of “research,” no significant research of importance to the world of science has been produced. And while Japan kills whales and attempts to sell the whale meat, according to news reports, consumption of whale meat in Japan is down to just 1% of its peak in the early 1960s. In fact, Japan has hundreds of tons of whale meat on ice in enormous warehouse-sized freezers that no one is eating, and for good reason: the meat is laden with toxins that are harmful to humans. Whales are far more valuable to our planet and to our world economy alive than dead on a dinner plate in Japan. Simply put, there is no justification for hunting these magnificent animals in the 21st century: not for science, human sustenance, or any other reason.

Due to the fact that the “scientific whaling” loophole to the IWC’s commercial whaling moratorium leaves it up to each country to police its own “research” permits, Japan doesn’t need approval from IWC’s Scientific Committee to initiate its new whaling program. This loophole has been abused for far too long. It’s time to close it. The majority of the international community is opposed to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

In March 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded a case brought by Australia and New Zealand and found that Japan’s previous whaling program (known as “JARPA II”) violated international law.  JARPA II authorized Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research to kill up to 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales, and 50 humpback whales every year in the Southern Ocean.  Between 2005 and 2014, Japan killed about 3,600 minke whales and 18 fin whales under JARPA II.

The ICJ ruled that Japan had failed to provide a legitimate scientific justification for its lethal whaling, and that its whaling under JARPA II was thus in violation of the commercial whaling moratorium and the prohibition on commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The ICJ held that Japan must revoke existing permits and refrain from granting any more permits under JARPA II.

In response to the ICJ decision, Japan suspended its Southern Ocean whale hunt during the 2014-2015 season. However, last fall, Japan introduced a new “research” plan (called “NEWREP-A”) which will allow for the slaughter of as many as 333 minke whales annually over the next 12 years, with any whales not killed under one year’s quota added to the quota for the following year.

It is this plan that was roundly rejected by the expert panel appointed by the IWC’s Scientific Committee. In particular, the panel found that Japan had not provided sufficient information to evaluate either of Japan’s purported “research” objectives, which included collecting data on minke whales to determine “sustainable” whaling quotas, and investigating the role that the whales play in the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

The expert panel found that Japan has not substantiated the need to kill whales to support either of these research objectives, and recommended that Japan suspend its scientific whaling program for two or more years to test the use of nonlethal methods to address their questions.

Japan made further revisions to NEWREP-A and presented it at a meeting of the IWC’s Committee in San Diego last month. IWC spokeswoman Kate Wilson told Agence France Presse that the Scientific Committee’s review had been “extensive and constructive,” involving “experts on the full range of relevant issues and with papers/presentations from a wide range of government delegation scientists and invited participants.”

Sea Shepherd hopes that the Scientific Committee will stand by the ruling of its expert panel, and reiterate what everyone already knows: Japan’s whaling program has nothing to do with “science.” Regardless of how the Scientific Committee rules, however, the real question is how Japan will respond. Its whaling has been found illegal by the ICJ and condemned by countries around the world. We hope one more rejection by the IWC’s Scientific Committee will really matter.

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