Japanese whaling ships have this morning departed for the Antarctic hunt, the first in the Antarctic since the 2014 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which found that Japan’s previous whaling programme was not for “purposes of scientific research”.
This will be first hunt to be conducted under a revised but highly criticised whaling programme, NewRepA. Japan’s latest proposal is to kill up to 333 minke whales per year until 2027. It includes some limited effort to conduct non-lethal research but the core of the programme has been devised to be based on lethal ‘sampling’.
While representing a smaller catch limit than under its previous whaling programme, the catch quota is still higher than the actual number of whales killed in recent years; from 2010-14, 103 to 266 Antarctic minke whales were killed per year.
Although Japan has claimed the sample size has a scientific basis, it is clearly motivated by a desire to maintain the commercial supply of whale meat products to its domestic market.
Japan’s new ‘scientific’ whaling proposal has been strongly condemned by scientific experts. A panel established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to review the new proposal met in February 2015 and found that “with the information presented in the proposal, the Panel was not able to determine whether lethal sampling is necessary to achieve the two major objectives; therefore, the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives”.
Japan submitted further information to the 2015 meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee but further concerns were raised and the Committee failed to reach a consensus view on the proposal.
Now Japan has taken a decision to ignore the scientific concerns, unilaterally claiming it has addressed the Scientific Committee’s questions and that its new programme is in compliance with the ICJ ruling.
However, it appears none too confident in its own assessment and has hedged its bets by announcing to the United Nations that it excludes itself from the jurisdiction of the ICJ and considers the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea a more appropriate forum for any future disputes concerning marine resources.
Japan’s international reputation has never been more at risk, as it flouts not just IWC process but also the ICJ and widespread international opinion just to maintain a cruel, unnecessary and outdated whale hunting industry.