Earlier this month, whaling ships left port in north-eastern Japan to embark on another government-backed ‘scientific’ whale killing program in coastal waters around the country and another new Antarctic whaling program is planned for later in the year despite international court rulings against it
The four ships that left port in Japan earlier this month could kill up to 51 minke whales in a few short weeks as part of a so-called ‘research’ program in the north-western Pacific.
Can this really still be going on after all these years? By the mid-1970s global whale populations had been reduced to less than ten percent of their peak populations – they were a species near extinction. It made sense to stop killing them.
Greenpeace famously brought the issue into the public domain at the time through a number of anti-whaling campaigns, which put the environmental campaigning organization on the map. Commercial whaling was finally banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986, but Japan carried on under the loophole of undertaking scientific research.
Japan has killed 13,000 whales since the IWC ruling on commercial whaling came into effect in 1987. Ridiculously, under the ban Japan has even been allowed to sell meat from the “scientific” hunts on the open market.
In May 2010, in a landmark legal challenge, Australia initiated proceedings through the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that Japan was pursuing a large-scale program of whaling and was using science as a thinly veiled cover for commercial whaling in the Antarctic waters.
Finally, in March 2014, the ICJ ruling banned Japanese scientific hunts in the Antarctic. The court decided that the hunts were nothing more than commercial whaling masquerading as science. But it isn’t over. Japan has a new plan to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean this year.
The Japanese government is thumbing its nose at the International Court of Justice. Under this new plan they aim to kill almost 4,000 minke whales over 12 years and this despite a panel of experts from the IWC, the body that once regulated commercial whaling around the world, condemning Japan’s newly-revised plans.
The ocean conservation organisation, Sea Shepherd, has opposed the Japanese government’s slaughter of whales in Antarctica since 2002. Throughout those years, they have remained the only organisation dedicated to protecting the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Spearheaded by direct-action, Sea Shepherd has saved the lives of over 5,000 whales, and has shone a spotlight on the atrocities committed against protected, vulnerable and endangered whales by the Japanese whaling fleet.7
But unfortunately, the new Japanese program is also focused on limiting Sea Shepherd’s capabilities. It includes an expanded hunting area, twice the size of that designated previously, aimed to make it more difficult for Sea Shepherd to locate the whaling fleet; a transferable and compoundable quota, meaning that the lives of whales saved by Sea Shepherd in any year will be transferred and added to the quota of the next; and a commitment not to engage with Sea Shepherd, thereby reducing any opportunity to draw international attention to the proposed yearly whale slaughter.
As such, the ocean conservation NGO will direct its resources elsewhere this year. Instead, they will take their fight for the whales from the South to the North. Thousands of cetaceans are still targeted for slaughter in the northern hemisphere each year too. Norway and Iceland alone have a combined yearly kill quota of over 1,500 whales. This number includes 154 endangered Fin whales.
But what now for Japan’s declaration that they intend to continue to kill whales in the Southern Ocean in violation of both the ICJ and the IWC? This is not a response of a nation that adheres to the rule of law. It is the response of a rogue nation that intends to bully its way into getting what it wants. Japan thinks they will be able to get away with it and they may indeed get away with it, but perhaps it is time for Japan to be treated like the rogue nation they have become in response to their criminal operations and their contempt for international law.