This Friday, the  International Whaling Commission issued a report in which it states Japan has failed to provide any reasonable explanation for its mass killing of over 4,000 whales in the Antarctic for the past 12 years. The country says it’s hunting whales for research purposes, but clearly it’s all a front. A lame excuse. Unimpressed by the report, Japan officials claim there’s a debate and lack of consensus (not really), and even though it “acknowledges” the IWC position it will likely continue as before. In other words, they don’t care.

Japan doesn't stop at nothing and continues to kill whales for alleged scientific research. AAP Image/Supplied by Sea Shepherd Australia, Tim Watters

Japan doesn’t stop at nothing and continues to kill whales for alleged scientific research. AAP Image/Supplied by Sea Shepherd Australia, Tim Watters

Last year, the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Japan to stop its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic. The situation was ignited when Australia asked the world court to order Japan to stop its JARPA II research programme and revoke “any authorisations, permits or licences” to hunt whales in the region. To defend itself, Tokyo cited the fact that this isn’t whaling per se – it’s all done for scientific purposes. After all, there are enough minke whales in the Antarctic to allow for sustainable hunting, Tokyo added. Either way, judges found that Japan’s activity was inconsistent with a nation solely interested in whale research.

Japan just laughed at the resolution, though. Despite the UN ban, it went on with business as usual. Then, in September of last year, the IWC also banned whaling in the Southern Ocean. Strike two. Yet again, Japan doesn’t care. Does anyone think after two international bans, a meager report is going to scare Tokyo? Let’s not kid ourselves. Here’s what Joji Morishita, the chief Japanese whaling negotiator, had to say:

“There is no definite conclusion in the report itself… which is not so surprising in the IWC, because as we know very well the IWC is a divided organisation,” Morishita told reporters.

“Because of this division, even the scientific committee is always having difficulty in coming up with some kind of a conclusion.

“Still… We will try to provide as much scientific research as possible and try to get” approval from the scientific committee for their go-ahead.

“But this could be a never-ending story. Well this has been a never-ending story,” Morishita added.

Sounds like a climate change denier, and we’ve had enough of those. Seriously, when a country needs a “whaling negotiator” to defend its masquerading research practices, you know you have a really vile and despicable system at work.

Japan’s new program, NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean), proposed killing up to 333 minke whales each year until 2027. Japanese officials promise increased efforts  in “non-lethal” research methods, but the core proposed program is centered around lethal methods. Among Japan’s justifications for the level of lethal sampling in its proposed program is the statement that:

As there is no other means than lethal methods, at this stage, the use of lethal method is indispensable to obtain age data which is necessary for estimating the age-at-sexual maturity”

Australian Antarctic Division molecular ecologist Dr Simon Jarman has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to research DNA-based methods for ageing humpback whales. Just by taking tiny skin samples from whales, Jarman believes he can estimate the age of a whale. Japan, on the other hand, has slaughtered some 10,000 whales since 1988. During this time, minimal efforts have been made to find non-lethal means of sampling whales.

Why are there still legally allowed to engage in mass slaughter, though? There are 88 countries in the International Whaling Commission under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which placed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. But member countries are allowed to issue permits to themselves to kill whales for scientific research. Basically, despite the global ban of commercial whaling, Japan uses the provision in the 1946 whaling convention which allows whales to be killed for scientific purposes.  The ‘scientific whaling’ provision has also been used by Norway and Iceland as well as a way of getting around the rules. Here are some points listed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare:

  • Scientific permit whaling requires whale meat to be used, ie, to be sold or given away. This means a scientific permit is little more than a licence to sell whale meat.
  • The approval of a scientific whaling permit is granted by the nation that applied for it. In other words, Japan approves its own permits for scientific whaling without any external scrutiny or need for explanation.
  • It is no coincidence that the only nations that kill whales for science are those most interested in trying to create markets for whale meat. Japan’s scientific whaling programme led to the killing of hundreds of whales in 2009 alone.

Some claim that  if Japan’s current whaling program was not scientific, then neither were the research activities of numerous institutions worldwide that use fisheries data to assess sustainable catch levels. The scientific part of Japan’s whaling consists of  killing whales in order to understand the feeding ecology and population makeup of various whale species. This is necessary to “manage” whale numbers through hunting. Basically, whales are gutted and the stomachs analyzed to learn more about cetacean biology. About 4,000 whale stomachs were needed in the past 12 years apparently. The Japanese really are very methodical. How convenient that all the meat from the whales is then commercially sold. We can’t have waste, can we?