The island nation has recently announced that it will resume whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean with the purpose of collecting “scientific data.” The decision was met with outrage and heavy criticism by other countries and conservation groups.

Minke Whales
Image via flikr

The IWC commissioner for Japan, Joji Morishita, announced in a series of new documents to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that his nation is resuming whaling operations in the Antarctic (or Southern) Ocean starting 2016, with a target of some 333 minke whales per year. All in the name of scientific progress, they claim:

“In order to achieve conservation of [Antarctic] resources while pursuing their sustainable utilisation and to understand and predict the effects of factors such as climate change, it is scientifically imperative to obtain an accurate understanding of many aspects of the Antarctic marine ecosystem including its animals and their dynamics through collection, accumulation, and analysis of scientific data,” Japan’s whaling research plan states.

Japan’s in no way, shape or sense new to whaling — their previous operations in the Antarctic Ocean were ended after the International Court of Justice ruled against them in March 2014. While Japan claimed that its whaling in this region was justified under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling on grounds of scientific research, the court found that the research output from almost a decade, two studies based on nine whale specimens, was woefully insufficient for justifying the program and the scale of the slaughter.

“In light of the fact the [research program] has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited,” said presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia during the ruling.

So the international community shut the whaling program down for good, they thought. But Japan now announced that it will keep on whaling regardless of the ICJ’s ruling with a new, amended program that plans for the killing of only 1/3 of the whales that their initial program had planned.

However, let’s be serious — it’s hard to justify a scientific program that requires the killing of 333 whale specimens per year. Japan’s decision has been met with outrage from conservation groups and representatives of other nations who are party to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” said Greg Hunt, Australia’s minister for the environment. “Japan cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the [scientific] questions. There is no need to kill whales in the name of research. Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans.”

Adding his voice to the critics is Tokyo-based historian Jeff Kingston, who wrote for The Japan Times saying that Japan’s resumption of whaling flouts the rule of law and would have negative repercussions outweighing any potential upsides for the country’s whaling industry.

“Whaling advocates in the Japanese government may think they are justified on cultural and culinary grounds, but they are harpooning ‘Brand Japan.’ Japan’s scientific argument for the resumption of whaling was examined and found wanting by two international panels of experts,” he wrote.

“Moreover, in terms of Japan’s global public image, whaling is a losing proposition. It’s a diplomatic scarlet letter that negatively influences public opinion in Europe, North America and Australia over a program that uses taxpayer money to kill something that hardly anyone craves – all for the sake of a national identity that few embrace.”

It’s not yet clear what the repercussions will be for the island nation, but we’re likely to see the world’s reply to Japan’s whaling program soon.

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Like us on Facebook