Japan’s Whaling Fleet Comes Home Empty-Handed

A trip to the Southern Ocean resulted in no whales killed for the first time in 30 years, but the hunt could ramp up in 2015.

Japanese research whaling mother ship Nisshin Maru enters Shimonoseki port in Yamaguchi prefecture. (Photo: Kyodo/Reuters)


Apr 1, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

For the first time in more than 30 years, Japan’s whaling fleet returned from its annual Antarctica hunting trip with no catch on board.

The two boats, the 724-ton Yushin Maru and the 747-ton Yushin Maru No. 2, docked on March 29 at the port of Shimonoseki whale-free—a result of last year’s ruling by a United Nations court that ordered an end to Japan’s annual hunt.

While whales have a reason to celebrate, the victory could be short-lived. The change from killing to counting whales by Japan’s “scientific research” vessels is not in the country’s long-term plans—despite the court’s ruling.

Japanese officials have vowed to get back to hunting whales later this year, even though the International Whaling Commission recently prohibited special whale-hunting permits.

Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986, but the U.N. court ruled in March 2014 that Japan had been skirting the law by claiming that research exempted its whale slaughter.

Even with the ruling, Japan has plans to kill 333 minke whales a year over the next 12 years.

“By collecting scientific data, we aim to resume commercial whaling,” Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s agriculture, forestry, and fisheries minister, told Agence France-Presse during a ceremony he attended for the vessel’s return.

Japan’s fleet killed 251 minke whales in the 2013–2014 season and 103 whales the previous year. Much of the meat ended up in markets and restaurants in Japanese cities.

Still, the recent death totals are much smaller than in past years, which could be a result of environmental group Sea Shepherd’s annual mission to interfere and stop the hunt.

Sea Shepherd captain Peter Hammarstedt said Japan’s “count not kill” initiative was a ruse.

“The government of Japan has already announced their plans to resume the killing of whales in 2015/2016, despite condemnation from the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice,” Hammarstedt said in a statement. “Therefore, the data collected during this upcoming season will be used to kill whales in as little as one year from now. Japan’s non-lethal program is the equivalent of robbers casing a bank in preparation for a robbery; the heist that robs the world of its most majestic creatures.”