The Japanese government confirmed yesterday that its whaling fleet had arrived home in Shimonoseki, having killed 100 percent of its self-awarded quota of 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean. Nearly two-thirds of the harpooned females were pregnant, creating a multiplier effect and putting the actual loss of lives at 540.
This year marked a return to Antarctic whaling by Japan, after a one-year hiatus following the March 2014 verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ had ruled that Japan’s previous ‘research’ whaling in the Southern Ocean was illegal and in contravention of the 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). There were initial hopes that Japan would heed the ICJ ruling, but instead it announced a new ‘research’ program, ‘NEWREP-A’.
The IWC’s Scientific Committee conducted two formal reviews of the new program (which bears many resemblances to previous programs), including one by an independent expert panel which concluded that the killing of whales was not justified. Many eminent members of the IWC Scientific Committee have strongly and publicly underlined the need for Japan to properly explore non-lethal methods before beginning another program of whaling.
But Japan, which announced in October that it would no longer recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ on this or other issues relating to living marine resources, loaded up its explosive harpoons and set sail. The international reaction has sat squarely between disbelief and indignation, even producing a démarche to the Japanese government from the governments of the United States, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand, and some 30 other countries. In the démarche, they called on Japan to forego lethal research whaling and criticized Japan’s defiance of the ICJ ruling and of the recommendations of the IWC and its scientific bodies
Japan appears to have a dogged determination to continue whaling, against the worldwide swell of opposition and disapproval and without any meaningful market for whale meat in the country. It burns tons of fuel to send its fleet thousands of miles across the globe to fire explosive grenades into whales who have been recorded as sometimes taking over an hour to die, incurring relentless international criticism and reputational damage in the process, all to supply meat to a vanishing domestic market.
With logic clearly absent from the equation, it seems that Japan and the other commercial whaling nations, Iceland and Norway, won’t desist unless serious economic or diplomatic obstacles are put in their way.
We’ll keep advancing our campaigns, undermining the market for whale meat, and keeping up the pressure on governments (including the United States) to push for an end to the politically poisonous practice of commercial whaling. It should be a deal-breaker in high-level negotiations, such as free-trade agreements and Japan’s campaign for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat. One day, not too far in the future, I think it will be, given the shamefulness of this gratuitous killing of some of the most remarkable animals on the planet.