In a move that was all too predictable, Japan has announced it’s decision to continue whaling in the Antarctic. This is in direct violation of the UN’s International Court of Justice ruling in 2014 which removed the Japanese right to go whaling. The case was initially brought about by Australia who claimed Japan was conducting commercial whaling, which is illegal, under the pretence of scientific research, which is legal.
Japan have decided however that they will return to the Antarctic this December with the aim of killing 333 minke whales, a figure that is only one third of what was caught on their previous hunt. However they say they intend to hunt this many whales for at least 12 years, purely for research purposes. Japan has long taken a very strange stance on whaling. They sighed up to a moratorium (ban) on whaling in 1986, but continued to go whaling under the guise of scientific research. It was suspected by many countries that science was only a pretence and that they were fishing for commercial reasons. The moratorium they signed however was optional and does not mean that whaling is illegal, indeed the laws regarding whaling are quite complicated. Countries such as Norway and Iceland both refused to sign the moratorium, declaring themselves exempt which allows both nations to hunt whales. Why the Japanese went to the trouble of agreeing with the ban only to not abide by it is puzzling. What is particularly wrong with the whaling is that it is suspected to have occurred, and may occur again, within the Australian Whale Sanctuary and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. One whaling ship from a separate hunt was also detained by the Russians after they claimed it illegaly entered their waters which adds to the suspicion that Japan may not be abiding by the boundaries.
The news that they will resume whaling has been met by outrage from most conservation groups and world governments, with the Australian government particularly upset as they brought Japan to court last year. The International Whaling Commission, whose moratorium the Japanese are meant to abide by, have also questioned the validity of this scientific endeavour. According to the Australian environment minister Greg Hunt, “Australia strongly opposes the decision by Japan to resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer. It cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the scientific committee’s questions.” Whether it addresses the questions or not however joining the IWC is voluntary and nations do have the unilateral control over their operations meaning that Japan could simply ignore the IWC or opt out. The USA and Canada both initially joined the IWC before opting out.
Many governments are trying to appeal but the Japanese don’t look like stopping the hunt at this stage and some reports suggest the hunt is beginning today. If diplomacy fails, Australia say they will consider sending a Customs and Border Protection Service patrol boat out to shadow the Japanese. This is to look for evidence of illegal activity. Previously the Sea Shepherds activist group followed the Japanese boats and frequently clashed with the whalers in the Antarctic. Unsurprisingly they are unhappy with the possible resumption of whaling, “The pristine waters of the Southern Ocean are once again under threat from poachers. We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd. As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act.,” said CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, Captain Alex Cornelissen. This is not strictly true however as you can catch whales in a sanctuary if you have a scientific reason to do so. Japan claimes to have a reason but it has been shown that the “Japanese Whale Research Program under special permit in the Antarctic” has failed to meet any of its stated aims in the past. The claim that they fish whales for food purposes is also difficult to substantiate as whale meats is not very popular in Japan and most of it is imported from Norway. This all prompts the world to ask, what exactly are the Japanese doing?
The Sea Shepherd flagship, the Steve Irwin is currently docked in and is Melbourne preparing for an anti-poaching mission to the Southern Ocean to stop tooth fish poaching. It seems more than likely that the Sea Shepherds may clash with the Japanese again. In April 2013, Japan announced its whaling haul from the Southern Ocean was at a record low because of “unforgivable sabotage” by activists from Sea Shepherd. Essentially there was a small battle at sea between the Sea Shepherds and the Japanese with both side accusing the other of violence. No charges were brought however.
The Japanese and Norwegians hunt minke whales, which are not endangered and thus they argue, are fine to hunt. The Norwegian opposition to the ban led to the founder of Sea Shepherds, Paul Watson supervising the sinking of two whaling ships. This allegedly facilitated the formation of the anti-whaling extremist group, Agenda 21 which proudly claims to have sunk at least 4 Norwegian whaling ships in the last 20 years. How the submersion of hundreds of tonnes of metal and oil benefited the environment is unclear, it still looks much more like terrorism than environmentalism. Japan does hunt the most whales of any nation and comes regularly comes under fire for the financial cost of the operation. Whaling does not make Japan money and is government funded. That being said, the 2012 whale hunt was actually funded by the rest of the world as Japan took money from their tsunami restoration fund and used it for whaling.
Quite what the Japanese need so many whales for nobody knows but if they do return to the Antarctic then everything they do is sure to be scrutinised by the rest of the world. In defence of Japan it has to be said that they do publish many scientific papers on the physiology of minke whales but whether or not the whales need to be killed during the research process is unclear. Despite the difficulty, the danger, the political fallout, and the many, many activists groups are sure to cause trouble along the way, Japan seems intent on whaling.
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