Japan Says It Just Wants to Count Whales—Not Kill Them—in 2015

The marine mammals' reprieve will be short-lived, as the country plans to resume the hunt in a year.

(Photo: M Votier/Getty Images)

Nov 21, 2014· 1 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

The good news is that Japan says it will only count, not kill, whales in the Southern Ocean over the next year.

The bad news: The country plans to resume hunting whales in late 2015 and plans to kill 333 minke whales annually over the next 12 years. And Japan intends to expand the area in which its whaling ships operate to include part of a whale sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission.

Opponents argue that the new whaling plan is merely a ploy to get around the International Court of Justice’s ruling in March that Japan’s whaling program is illegal.

“I don't think the International Court of Justice or the people across the world would like to call that progress,” Sid Chakravarty, captain of Sea Shepherd Australia ship Sam Simon, said in an email. “It should more aptly be called a ‘masquerade.’ What they have done instead is to propose an expanded area that now encircles two-thirds of the Antarctic continent.”

Sea Shepherd dispatches a fleet of vessels to confront Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean and interfere with the annual hunt.

“The only reason Japan will be sighting whales this year would be because their illegal operations have been called out by the International Court of Justice,” Chakravarty said. “There should be no doubt, even for a moment, that the killing flotilla will be leaving Japan with their harpoons charged next year. Our reaction to that will be…to prepare the Sea Shepherd fleet to head south in search of the whalers and shut down their operations.”

During the 2014–2015 season, which begins Dec. 1, the Japanese said they would only count minke whales in the Southern Ocean and compile data on their ages, distribution, and foraging patterns.

Sea Shepherd ships will keep an eye on Japan’s minke-whale surveillance to make sure Japanese whalers are not actually killing any of the animals, according to Chakravarty.

He said that because of Sea Shepherd’s intervention, Japan has killed fewer than 333 minke whales annually in the last few years.

Japan announced a one-year moratorium on the hunt earlier this year after the court’s ruling that Japan’s “scientific” whaling program is actually meant to produce whale meat for domestic and international markets.

In September, the IWC approved a resolution requesting a ban on Japan’s scientific whale hunting program unless the organization approved it. But Japan, which is not bound by the resolution, immediately announced it would resume its whale hunt in the 2015–2016 season.

This year, Sea Shepherd will also try to stop the poaching of Patagonian toothfish (commonly known as Chilean sea bass) in the Southern Ocean.

“These fish are the target of at least half a dozen illegal operators,” Chakravarty said.

And Sea Shepherd is preparing to confront Japanese whalers during the 2015–2016 hunting season.

“The only progress on the subject of killing whales inside a whale sanctuary can be made when the lethal component of the whaling program is eliminated,” Chakravarty said. “And Japan has failed to do that. The only acceptable number for a research program is zero.”