Japan to Resume Controversial Whaling Program

Many of the whales caught for scientific purposes wind up on dinner plates around the nation.
Minke whale caught in research whaling. (Photo: 'The Asahi Shimbun'/Getty Images)
Nov 29, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

A little more than a year after Japan agreed to cease its controversial whaling program owing to an international outcry, the nation is readying itself to send out a new fleet to begin capturing minke whales.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency confirmed its plan to commence whaling season in letters sent to the International Whaling Commission this week.

Japan’s announcement has drawn ire from government officials in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, as well as wildlife advocates who note that the decision violates last year’s ruling from the International Court of Justice, which ordered Japan to cease its whaling program until it could prove it was for scientific purposes.

“The pristine waters of the Southern Ocean are once again under threat from poachers,” Alex Cornelissen, chief executive of conservation group Sea Shepherd, told the AFP. “We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law, and by Sea Shepherd.” In past seasons, Japan has accused Sea Shepherd of sabotaging its hunt.

Japan’s whaling program has been controversial since the country commenced what it called “research whaling” in 1987, a year after the International Whaling Commission called for a moratorium on commercial whaling as the survival of species including blue, humpback, Pacific gray, sei, and sperm whales saw a significant and unsustainable decline in population owing to hunting.

Australia took Japan to court in 2014, with the U.N. high court finding that the whales did not need to be killed in order to be studied and that the whaling was, in fact, a hunt disguised as scientific research, rendering it illegal. Japan ceased its program for one year but began petitioning the International Whaling Commission earlier this year to allow a revised plan, in which it would cut down the catch by two-thirds, to 333 minke whales a year, for the next 12 years. An expert panel stated that Japan failed to justify the need to kill the minke whales in order to study them.

Despite the commission’s decision, Japan has decided to continue with this plan. Japanese officials maintain that the whales they hunt are not endangered, that the population is large enough to sustain whaling, and that eating whale is a part of their culture, according to the AFP.

Although the minke whale population is stable, that’s partly because of decreases in other large-whale populations from commercial whaling, which has created less competition for food sources. However, officials from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration fear the population may be smaller than current estimates owing to surges in modern whaling from countries such as Japan, Greenland, and Norway.