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The world's leading whale scientists want Japan's harpoon fleet to turn back

A Minke whale on the flensing deck of the whale factory ship, Nisshin Maru. Image: Sea Shepherd

More than 30 of the world’s top whale scientists have called on Japan to stop its so-called scientific whaling program.

In the correspondence section of the international journal Nature, the experts write a letter to the editor under the headline “Japan’s whaling is unscientific”.

The experts are mostly members of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) Scientific Committee whose evidence contributed to the March 2014 International Court of Justice ruling against Japan’s previous whaling program.

A Japan fleet of four vessels, including harpoon boats, is on the way to Antarctic waters to hunt whales again despite an international court ruling in 2014 that such missions are unlawful.

The Steve Irwin, the flagship of the conservation group Sea Shepherd, this week left Fremantle in Western Australia for the Southern Ocean to try to stop “Japanese whale poaching”.

Previous campaigns by Sea Shepherd against Japan’s whaling saw collisions at sea, the boarding of a whale factory ship by activists, the sinking of one anti-whaling ship, the throwing of stink bombs and the dropping of propeller-fouling devices.

In the current program, Japan intends to harpoon 333 minke whales this year in the Southern Ocean, adding to the 10,712 minke whales it has taken since 1987.

“The IWC urgently needs to develop a process of scientific review that results in clear decisions that can be respected by all,” say the scientists, writing in Nature.

Professor Liz Slooten of the University of Otago says scientific whaling is a loophole in the international whaling regulations, allowing whaling to continue despite the moratorium on commercial whaling which began in 1986.

“When I first joined the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission in 1992, I was surprised to discover that Japan is under no obligation to respond to criticism on the scientific whaling proposals it submits to the IWC,”she says.

“Japan decides whether to go whaling and how many whales they will kill. The IWC can neither reject a scientific whaling proposal, nor set a quota for the number of whales that can be taken.”

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