I guess it’s no big surprise that Japan has advanced a new proposal to kill whales for commercial purposes in Antarctic waters, again under the guise of “science” and “research.” In late March 2014, the highest court in the world -- the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- ruled that Japan’s previous program in these waters, JARPAII, was not based on science and thus was in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling. Following the ruling, Japan indicated that it would abide by the decision and the rule of law. Indeed, there will be no whales killed for the first time in over a century in the Southern Ocean in the current season – a triumph for our cause and a respite for the whales.
However, at this year’s annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia, Japan made it clear that it intended to respond to the detailed criticism in the ICJ ruling. Japan also indicated that it would resume its take of whales in the icy waters that include the IWC-designated Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which Japan does not recognize, in a renewed 2015-2016 whaling program.
Japan’s new plan, NEWREP-A, calls for a quota of 333 minke whales -- a sharply reduced quota over that of the prior plan, JARPAII, but one that exceeds the number of animals that the whalers have actually killed in recent years. Over the 12-year time horizon for the plan, the aggregate kill would be nearly 4,000 whales, if it all comes to pass.
JARPAII targeted 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales (although it never took any humpbacks) and 10 fin whales annually, and it is at least good news that Japan’s modified plan, coming after the court’s ruling, calls for no taking of humpback or fin whales.
At Portoroz this year, after intense debate, the member nations of the IWC approved New Zealand’s resolution to uphold the ICJ ruling and to impose strict review standards on any new proposals for scientific whaling. The IWC vote means that the Japanese plan must be carefully considered by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, using standards set by the ICJ, and then by the commission itself. Japan, unfortunately, will undoubtedly dismiss the anticipated criticism as political or emotional and will increase its effort to justify the logic of its proposal, a pseudo-scientific rationale for dressing up a commercial catch as an exercise in research. In the end, should Japan succeed, a few biological samples will be sent to laboratories while a ton of whale meat infiltrates the commercial marketplace.
It is difficult to fathom why Japan continues this archaic and cruel slaughter when it meets no pressing domestic need for protein, does so much to tarnish Japan’s image as an enlightened nation and a civil society, and, as a practical matter, harpoons and blows up the biggest creatures ever to live on the planet. What’s even more confounding is that the whole whaling industry is a financial boondoggle, surviving only because of the subsidies, the largesse, and the ceaseless diplomatic maneuverings of Japan’s national government.
The ICJ ruling should have given the island nation an escape path to terminate its whaling programs. Whale meat already goes to waste, and young people in Japan are thoroughly uninterested in eating the slabs, steaks and cubes from whales.
In fact, whale watching and appreciation is growing at a rapid pace in the country, and there is a more favorable ethos toward animals and the environment taking hold. The fact is, of the 200 nations in the world, Japan stands with just two others in attempting to justify a commercial hunt for these most remarkable creatures.
It’s not too late for the country to restore its honor and reverse course on this important issue.