The Japanese government, along with other pro-whaling countries such as Norway and Iceland, attempted to lift the 33-year whaling ban at the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in Brazil, held on Sept. 14. The Japanese delegation at the IWC put forth a proposal to move IWC rules away from conservation and toward “resource management control.”
“There is this perception that we are asking [for the] total lifting of the moratorium. That is not the case,” said Joji Morishita, Japan’s commissioner to the IWC. “We are just asking for a small quota based on science, and of particular species in particular water. That’s it.” The proposal, which would open up the possibility for resuming commercial whaling, was rejected in a 42-27 vote.
The IWC first banned commercial whaling in 1982, though it didn’t take full effect until four years later in 1986. In 2016, Japan lobbied against the IWC to allow for small coastal hunts in four communities that trace a 5,000-year-old cultural practice of whaling, arguing “they are unjustly barred from a traditional food source.”
Conservationists were overjoyed when the IWC not only shot down Japan’s proposal, but reaffirmed the moratorium in a declaration seeking to bring the 1982 ruling up to modern conservation principles.
Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International, expressed support for the decision. “It is an immense relief that the IWC’s moral compass has led it to reject Japan’s reckless and retrograde attempt to bring back commercial whaling,” she said. “What Japan tried to do here was to bend and break the rules of the IWC to lift an internationally agreed ban on killing whales for profit. It deserved to fail; the world has moved on from commercial whaling, and so must Japan.”
Japan came under scrutiny when their whaling operations were recently discovered by the World Wildlife Fund in a protected zone of the Antarctic called the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. The Ross Sea MPA was established in 2016 by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in order to protect krill, penguins, seals and whales in the area.
According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Japan used a legal loophole to justify the killing of 50 minke whales between January and February 2018, saying it was under the pretense of scientific research. The scientific program sets its whale quota to 333 per year, with about 4,000 whales killed in a 12-year duration.
Rod Downie, polar chief adviser at WWF, criticized the program, saying, “Krill and thousands of other species are protected in this part of the Ross Sea, so it is shocking and absurd that minke whales are not. The banner of so-called scientific whaling used to justify killing whales in a protected area needs to stop once and for all.”
The goal of the program is to better understand the health of a number of whale populations by gauging the age of the whales; however, Japan argues their lethal methodology is necessary to this endeavor.
The WWF has called on the CCAMLR to close the loophole. Chris Johnson, senior manager of the WWF Antarctic program said, “People around the world who celebrated this historic ocean sanctuary will be shocked by the killing of whales within its boundaries.” Despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2014 calling for the abolishment of all existing scientific whaling programs in the Southern Ocean, Japan has issued itself a new permit to continue harvesting minke whales until 2027.
Additionally, whale meat has fallen out of favor in Japan, with only four percent claiming to eat it occasionally and 37 percent abstaining completely. According to a 2013 survey done by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, nine out of 10 people in Japan reported they hadn’t bought or consumed whale meat in the past year.
“Actually, many people don’t have any interest in whales or whaling now in Japan,” Nanami Kurasawa of the Dolphin and Whale Action Network (IKAN) told CNN, noting that eating whale has decreased in popularity.
Despite the diminishing demand and thousands of pounds of whale meat being stockpiled, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party continues to keep the industry alive through government subsidies.