Since November 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been one of President Trump’s strongest suitors, intent on persuading the United States to maintain its customary role as the guarantor of the post-war security alliance that has been one element of Japan’s economic success for decades. That puts the United States in a strong position to influence the Japanese government, including on its stubborn-minded continuation of whaling, at a time when the world shuns the practice and there’s no real commercial market for whale meat or oil. Yet the United States simply won’t exert its full influence to attempt to pressure Japan to stop this vulgar killing of whales (in fact, today, President Trump consumed shark fin soup in Vietnam, sending a bad message about a separate and high-priority global campaign to protect marine life).
Japan’s notorious factory vessel – the Nisshin Maru (a giant at 8,145 tons) quietly set sail last week for the Southern Ocean, even as President Trump was traveling in the region. The Nisshin Maru is accompanied by three catcher vessels (the Yushin Maru 1, 2, and 3, which weigh between 724 and 741 tons). The fleet’s task: to end the lives of 333 Antarctic minke whales (one of the smallest baleen whales weighing only about ten tons each) and bring the meat home.
Just before this armada set off, the government of Japan again indulged in its annual subterfuge, issuing itself a ‘research permit’ – displayed on the website of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The permit specifies the number of minke whales to be killed and broadly identifies where the killing is expected to occur. It also makes several references to the sale of the meat and describes the research as having two main aims. First, it aims to improve the Revised Management Procedure (the mechanism used to calculate hypothetical commercial whaling quotas) – so this is whaling aimed at improving whaling! Second, it refers vaguely to ecosystems studies, which for the Japanese typically means looking inside the whales to see what they have been eating.
This latest expedition is part of Japan’s reviled ‘scientific whaling’ programs. It maintains this one in the Antarctic and another nearer to home in the North Pacific. The programs were recently revised and described in two documents considered (but never agreed to) by the relevant bodies of the IWC. The Antarctic ‘research’ program requires a sample of 4,000 whales to be taken over 12 years; hence 333 per Antarctic expedition.
The programs were revised as a result of a case brought by Australia to the International Court of Justice against Japan. In the ICJ’s 2014 findings Japan was shown to be in violation of the provision in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), which it uses to defend its ‘scientific hunts.’ The provision is enshrined in Article VIII and was established in 1949 when the convention was agreed, and at a time when it may have seemed reasonable to take some few animals for pressing research needs. But the scientific exemption was never meant to allow commercial whaling, which is, of course, what Japan is actually doing. Commercial whaling is covered by other provisions of the ICRW and – most importantly – it is prohibited. In 1982 the IWC agreed that all commercial takes should halt and this ‘moratorium’ came into force in 1986.
Japan’s stubbornness has been remarkable, given that its ideological devotion to commercial whaling has brought shame on the country. Having lost the ICJ case, Japan a few months later announced that it would resume whaling under new research programs that would meet, it claimed, the requirements of the ICJ case. However, in October 2015, Japan went even further. Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Motohide Yoshikawa, told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a special declaration that his nation would take a sweeping exception to the court’s jurisdiction. Specifically, Japan announced that the ICJ’s jurisdiction “does not apply to … any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea.”
Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a devoted animal advocate and staunch conservative, has introduced H.Res.244 to condemn Japan’s whaling program, and it’s our hope Congress will take it up soon and send a signal to Japan and the Trump administration that this program must be terminated. (Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Gregorio Sablan, D-Northern Marianas, and Sens. Cory Booker, D.-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., have a raft of cosponsors for their legislation to ban the sale of shark fins in the United States.)
Japan’s grim determination to pursue small whales for a negligible domestic market seems to have nothing to do with sensible economics (how can sending gas-guzzling vessels thousands of miles into the Southern Ocean for meat make sense?). It’s a shame, too, that Japan continues to exploit the special relationship to carry on with its whaling, when tens of millions of people worldwide, including millions of Americans, oppose this gruesome practice and consider it a form of barbarism.