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“By withdrawing, our nation’s thinking in terms of cooperation with international marine resources management does not change,” Suga said. “We will participate in the IWC as an observer, and while maintaining ties to international organizations our nation will keep contributing to whale resources management based on scientific principles.”

The nearby countries of Australia and New Zealand both expressed strong disagreement with the decision, with Australia saying it is was “extremely disappointed”, while New Zealand called Japanese whaling an “outdated and unnecessary practice.”

Conservation groups have also expressed their disappointment at the announcement.

“By leaving the International Whaling Commission but continuing to kill whales commercially, Japan now becomes a pirate whaling nation killing these ocean leviathans completely outside the bounds of international law,” said Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International.

This essentially highlights a major ideological divide between Japan and other countries. Due to its proximity to the Antarctic, Japan’s whaling practices are considered dangerous to a very vulnerable ecosystem. There’s also a major ethical discussion since most whales are considered to be highly intelligent.

Meanwhile, Japan has historically been unable to ensure food self-sufficiency, now providing only around 40% of its nutritional needs. So the country stockpiles vast quantities of food, including 1.2 million tons of seafood. Out of these, 5,000 tons are whale meat, a food considered traditional by many. However, the demand for whale meat has been steadily declining, and the industry isn’t even sustainable — the Japanese government has had to invest $12 million into the 2008-09 Antarctic whale hunt alone just to break even.

From the outside, whaling seems like a declining and unsustainable industry, but the Japanese government seems determined to push it.