Japan's plans to resume Antarctic whaling have suffered a major setback

Minke whale tagging team. Image: John Durban/Australian Antarctic Division

An expert review of Japan’s plans for a new round of whaling in the Southern Ocean found that no more whales need to be harpooned for Antarctic research.

A panel of scientists, writing in an International Whaling Commission (IWC) report, says Japan’s new whaling proposal contained insufficient information about its scientific objectives.

The panel recommended further non-lethal research and analyses which should be completed before any further lethal research can be considered.

The panel’s finding is also summarised in a letter published in the leading science journal, Nature.

Commercial whaling is banned in the Southern Ocean but Japan has in the past run a so-called scientific whaling program.

“You don’t need to be a scientific expert to know there’s no need to slaughter whales in the Southern Ocean,” says Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“We urge Japan to continue the non-lethal research work it embarked on this year, and to present the results of that modern approach to the IWC when it meets in September 2016.”

Japan’s latest proposal, called NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean), includes plans to harpoon up to 333 minkes a year for the next 12 years.

Earlier self-allocated Antarctic quotas allowed for around 1,000 whales to be hunted but in reality far fewer were taken in the last few years, including 252 minke whales in the 2013-14 season.

The harpooning has been consistently disrupted by ships from the global environment group Sea Shepherd.

In March 2014 the International Court of Justice found that Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic was not “for purposes of scientific research,” ruling it was illegal.

Japan abided by the judgement but later said it would prepare a replacement program. In November 2014, Japan announced a new plan for research whaling in the Antarctic to start in late 2015.

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