Japan is making news on the marine mammal front, not only with the start of the barbaric dolphin drive in Taiji, but also with the launch of its Pacific whaling fleet today, and its announcement that the island nation intends to continue its whaling in the Southern Ocean. In March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program in the Antarctic was illegal and thus a violation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling approved by the International Whaling Commission in 1982. After the ICJ verdict was returned, Japanese officials were quick to say that Japan would abide by the ruling and many took this, quite reasonably, to mean that the country would end its lethal scientific research program.
Now, it is taking another tack, and plans to propose a new lethal research plan at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Portorož, Slovenia, later this month. While reportedly giving up any future planned killing of humpback and fin whales in the Southern Ocean, Japan intends to continue to kill southern minke whales, smaller and more numerous than other hunted baleen whale species.
Certainly, it was the hope of many concerned parties that Japan would not only accept the ICJ decision but would “cash out” of whaling altogether, affirming its respect for international law and the obligations it has taken on as a signatory to relevant global treaties. Japan’s constitution sets the highest standard for the nation in this respect: “We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal, and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations.”
Japan’s JARPAII program in the Antarctic was controversial not just because the research was usually lethal, but also because the meat from the whales was sold on the commercial market in Japan. In fact this is allowed under Article VIII, a clause in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling treaty that authorizes the killing of whales for the purposes of scientific research. But, as has been clear for many years, Japan was effectively carrying out a commercial whaling program thinly disguised as science. Now, Japan regrettably intends to take advantage of that portion of the ICJ ruling that provided guidance as to the conduct of any future programs under the provisions of Article VIII.
This pivot by Japan is shameful, and the meeting in Slovenia, which might have marked a turning point in the shift of values and approach to the question of whaling, promises to become a bog of division and discord over this and several other proposals advanced by Japan and its allies. Even as the world community moves to meet the many threats to ocean health and the preservation of marine creatures, we are trapped in a debate over the morality of whaling that should have been resolved long ago.
Humane Society International’s team in Slovenia will urge delegates of the Commission to press the Japanese government to take heed of the ICJ decision and not pursue any further commercial whaling, including in the guise of Article VIII whaling, in the Southern Ocean or the North Pacific Ocean. In the meantime, you too can take action to save whales from the threat of the harpoon.