Japan is hunting whales for money again and one expert says they 'never put down their harpoons'

MINAMIBOSO, JAPAN – Local children touch a Baird’s Beaked whale at Wada Port on July 29, 2009 in Minamiboso, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
  • The Japanese Government has quit the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
  • The pay off for Japan is that it says it is free to restart commercial whaling in its own territorial seas and economic zones, while calling off the annual ‘scientific whaling’ in the Antarctic Ocean and Southern Hemisphere.
  • Tony Burke, the Australian environment minister who took Japan to the International Court of Justice in 2014 and secured the halt on whaling in the southern oceans, says he has mixed feelings about the announcement, which heralds the reemergence of whaling for money.

After years of unsuccessful lobbying for its scientific and commercial whaling programs, Japan has finally pulled the plug on its membership of the IWC.

The move frees the traditional whaling country to return to the hunt in seas around the island nation as well as in its exclusive economic zone, according to the Kyodo News Agency.

“From July 2019, after the withdrawal comes into effect on June 30, Japan will conduct commercial whaling within Japan’s territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone, and will cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean/the Southern Hemisphere,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, according to local media.

By turning its back on the IWC, Japan’s defiance massages the ideology of the country’s small but powerful reactionary political clique and props up an industry that resonates with the same streaks of culturally conservative significance.

It is an issue that goes beyond the killing of whales for Japan and its leaders, as the New York Times touches on.

The decision does not technically impact the 2014 International Court of Justice decision banning Japan from whaling in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean, because to do so requires a nation to have membership of the IWC. Therein lies the rub.

By cutting itself loose from the multilateral mechanism governing whaling, Japan has effectively given up its legal claims on ‘scientific whaling’ or any whaling outside its own territories.

In going rogue, Japan is yielding up its southern whaling claims, but is also signaling its intention to get back in the boat and restart its commercial whaling program. A move that has many experts and conservationists aghast.

“The largest part of the battle against whaling has been won,” Burke told Business Insider. “The Southern Ocean will again be a sanctuary for whales.”

“However Australia should still pursue the worldwide ban on commercial whaling wherever it occurs.”

Japan now joins Iceland and Norway as non-members of the IWC.

“The truth is Japan never stopped commercial whaling. There was never anything scientific about harpooning a whale, cutting it up and putting it on a plate,” Burke said.

“The Japanese whaling fleet left for the Southern Ocean in November and may already be slaughtering whales. This needs to end.”

Australia and New Zealand have been on the vanguard of attempts to stop Japan’s so called ‘scientific whaling’ and driven the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1982.

Burke led moves to prosecute Japan in the International Court of Justice and as Australia’s shadow minister for the environment, Burke has been part of a marine conservation coalition that has ensured whaling in the Southern Ocean remains illegal.

Japan says it will be free to pick up the harpoons again for commercial whaling by July. The country also says it will set limits on its hunts based on IWC estimates of populations. Currently, however, there’s no indication of how Japan will track the number of kills and whether they’ll report them to the IWC.

Burke has called on the Australian government to seek legal advice on the implications of Japan walking away from the IWC and added that frustrations continue to simmer after Japanese whaling, under cover of science, went on a killing spree in May this year.

Never stopped

MINAMI BOSO, JAPAN – JUNE 28: Fishermen slaughter a 9.61m Baird’s Beaked whale at Wada Port on June 28, 2008 in Minami Boso, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

According to Burke, Japanese whalers caught and killed 122 pregnant female minke whales, “in an apparent effort to measure fertility rates.”

The total catch and kill for the 2017-18 season was over 330 minke whales, many of which were still calves, he added.

Japan threatened to leave the IWC at the last meeting in Brazil in September after it lost a vote over commercial whaling. And while Australia’s actions have been focused on the Southern Ocean, Burke and other conservationists here have condemned Japanese whaling in the northwest Pacific.

Either way, in either ocean, it seems the moratorium banning commercial whaling is done.

“The moratorium on commercial whaling was one of the great environmental reforms of the last century,” Burke lamented.

However, speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday, Michael Cucek, an adjunct professor of political science at Temple University in Japan, said Japan has never stopped commercial whaling, moratorium or no.

“Its small-scale coastal whalers — the ones who will be doing a lot of the hunting under the new regime — never put down their harpoons,” he said.

“They just shifted to species not covered by the IWC.”

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