Despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year that the practice is illegal, after a twelve-month hiatus Japan is set to resume its annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters this December. Friday marked the third time in fifteen months that experts have concluded that the hunt has no basis in science.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC), a voluntary agreement between nations that banned the practice of commercial whaling in 1986, and of which Japan is a signatory, has called on the country to provide more evidence that the hunt has a legitimate scientific basis. The IWC claims that it is not possible to reach a consensus on the report that is currently submitted. Out of the 33 countries present at the meeting to discuss Japan's whaling venture, 18 were not satisfied, with 44 scientists writing that “the need for lethal sampling has not been demonstrated.”
After a ruling last year that saw Australia win a case claiming that Japan was exploiting a loop hole in the IWC whaling ban, meaning that their practice killing of up to 900 minke whales per year was deemed illegal, the nation took a break from whaling: the first since 1987. This came after the country failed to meet its self-imposed quotas of the previous few years, mainly as a result of the conservation group Sea Shepherd, which actively chases the boats and prevents them from killing the cetaceans.
Since last year, though, Japan has drawn up a new proposal that it claims has addressed the issues of the court. They published the new report, called the “New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A),” which has a reduced quota to 333 whales a year for the next 12 years. The Japanese scientists also state that the ICJ ruling does not actually rule out “lethal sampling” completely; there just needs to be stronger scientific reasoning.
“The outcome, with Japan disagreeing with expert panel conclusions about a lack of justification for lethal sampling, was not a surprise,” Phil Clapham, a cetacean biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Science. “There is very little doubt that Japan will go whaling in the next Antarctic season no matter what experts say about it.”
The Japanese researchers say that the data they collect is necessary to better understand the whale populations in the southern oceans. They say that their “research” enables them to gather information of the animal’s age, sex, maturity and feeding habits, which can then be used by the IWC to draw up more refined plans for the sustainable harvest of whales. The fact that the meat also happens to end up on a plate is just to recover some of the research costs, they claim. Their opponents, however, say that all this information can be gained through non-lethal methods.