On Wednesday, Japan announced that is pulling out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a step that will allow commercial whaling to resume in the spring. The move comes after a failed attempt to get the IWC to set legal fees for legal hunting by its members. For whales, the news is both good and bad: moving with Japan’s hunting to its territorial waters, and away from the hardy people in the Antarctic.
The decline in whale populations in the 1970s eventually led to an international moratorium on commercial hunting of whales. The IWC allowed some exceptions for subsistence hunting among the indigenous population, and put a loophole for the killing of whales in the field of scientific research. Japan has exploited that, sending huge ships to the Antarctic that kill hundreds of whales every year, with their meat clamoring for sale in Japan.
But Australia, which has put whale sanctuaries in place to protect the Antarctic population, took Japan to the International Court of Justice and won a suit over the practice. The International Court of Justice ruled that there was little to Japan’s claim that its whaling program was for science, because the country had not explored non-lethal alternatives or determined whether the number of whales killed was adequate to answer the scientific question. -any depth.
Carrying their harpoons and going home
After a hiatus, Japan resumed its whaling program, and began lobbying the IWC to set quotas for commercial whaling, something supported by Iceland and Norway, and specified as a goal in the IWC treaty. But most other countries, noting that some whale populations are just beginning to recover — there are less than 500 right whales left in the North Atlantic, for example — reject this idea. Japan, suspecting that the IWC may not set the quotas, has decided to withdraw from the organization instead.
Japan’s announcement means it will be free to resume commercial whaling in July. As part of the change, the country will no longer send ships to the Antarctic, a move Australian leaders said means that these waters “will be a true sanctuary for all great fish.” (The Australian Government has otherwise stopped the action.) Instead, the whaling fleet will focus on Japanese territorial waters and economic zones. The country also said that it will set limits on its hunting based on the IWC statistics of the inhabitant. Currently, however, there is none. indication of how Japan will track the number of killings and whether they will report them to the IWC.
While it is estimated that whaling employs only 1,000 people in Japan and there is little demand for its end product, it serves a similar political purpose to coal in the US: it allows Japanese leaders to assert their independence from the international community while appealing to those nostalgic for a traditional way of life. The danger in this move is that Japan will be joined by countries that have supported its efforts in the past, thus destroying the group that is primarily responsible for the survival of many fish species into the 21st century.