In a huge blow to wildlife conservation endeavours to save endangered species, Japan confirmed its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after 51 years of membership, and announced on Wednesday that it will engage in commercial whaling again from 2019.
Defying the global ban on whaling, Japan’s news of resumption has solicited heavy condemnation from the international community.
What the government said
After quitting the global body dedicated to the conservation of whales, Japan said that hunting is expected to begin as early as July next year, citing consumption of whales as an inextricable part of its culture.
“In its long history, Japan has used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes,” an official statement released Wednesday said. “Engagement in whaling has been supporting local communities, and thereby developed the life and culture of using whales.”
This comes after Japan’s proposal to affix a commercial catch quota of whales was turned down by the IWC in September.
The role of IWC in protecting whales
The exit from IWC means the country will freely hunt species like the minke whales that are currently protected by the IWC.
The IWC had banned commercial whaling in 1986 following alarming reports of certain species being driven to near-extinction. Japan had been utilising a loophole to continue hunting whales for the last 30 years, under a scientific programme earmarked as an exception under the IWC ban.
What happens now
Commercial whaling will be restricted to Japanese territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, confirmed government spokesman Yoshihide Suga this week. The country will cease controversial whaling expeditions to Antarctic waters and the southern hemisphere, according to the statement, agreeing to hunt species with so-called “healthy” population numbers. Japan’s whaling activities in the Southern Ocean have always been a major source of diplomatic friction between Tokyo and Canberra.
Japan’s whaling activity was always controversial
Japan’s role in killing whales to conduct scientific experiments and trade the meat had been condemned by the international community and conservation groups for a long time. Many critics have claimed that the scientific purpose acts a cover, implying that whales taken for scientific studies are later sold for meat consumption.
While the body lamented Japan’s failure to commit to conserving whales, Tokyo complained in a statement that the IWC had not lived up to its pledge of supporting sustainable commercial whaling. It accused the IWC of being focused only on the aim of conserving numbers.
How wildlife groups and global community responded
Australia expressed extreme disappointment with Japan’s decision. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Environment Minister Melissa Price released a joint statement
Greenpeace Japan also urged the government to reconsider, lest this move attract criticism ahead of the G20 summit in June which Japan is set to host.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” said Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan. “The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling,” he said, further accusing Japan of timing the announcement before the New Year’s eve to avoid media flare up and criticism.
UK’s environment secretary Michael Gove also tweeted in dismay, “The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.”
History of whaling
Coastal countries like Japan, Norway
Pro-whaling nations in 1986 had expected the IWC to implement a moratorium rather than a quasi-permanent ban, at least until stocks recovered and consensus on catch quotas was reached.
What happens next
Although Japan is no longer bound by IWC’s rules, it remains to be seen if the country will be held culpable under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, that binds all members to cooperate on the conservation of whales. Alternatively, the Japanese political class can also constitute or join a group of pro-whaling nations like the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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