Japan’s North Pacific ‘scientific’ whaling flouts international law

Japan’s North Pacific ‘scientific’ whaling flouts international law
Thursday, 15 June, 2017
Tokyo, Japan

The former head of the UN body charged with protecting endangered species has condemned Japan’s latest North Pacific whaling programme as ‘violating international law’.

The Government of Japan today issued self-allocated quotas to kill 134 endangered sei whales and 43 minke whales in the North Pacific Ocean, in addition to permits to slaughter 127 minke whales issued earlier this week for whaling in the country’s own coastal waters. Peter Sand, former Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and now a lecturer in international environmental law at the University of Munich, said Japan’s catch of sei whales on the High Seas contravenes CITES and openly defies specific recommendations by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Commenting on Japan’s North Pacific whaling, Professor Sand said:  “The North Pacific population of sei whales (one of the world’s largest whale species) is listed as fully protected on Appendix I of CITES, meaning that its trade and ‘introduction from the sea’ is strictly prohibited. While governments may indeed grant exceptions by way of special permits or certificates (for example, for purposes of scientific research), Article III(5)(c) of CITES makes it clear that specimens so introduced are ‘not to be used for primarily commercial purposes’. Yet, in the case of the North Pacific whales, there is abundant evidence from Japanese practice over the past 15 years that most or all economically valuable parts of the specimens so introduced ended up being marketed and consumed commercially, mainly in Tokyo’s gourmet restaurants. The whaling permit system of the Japan Fisheries Agency thus violates international law, and the new North Pacific programme (NEWREP-NP) perpetuates the breach.”   

Earlier this year, Japan’s so-called scientific whaling in the North Pacific received further criticism from international experts who found Japan should stop killing whales for ‘scientific research’. An Expert Panel appointed by the IWC’s Scientific Committee concluded that Japan’s ‘lethal sampling’ of whales, which it will continue to hunt with explosive harpoons in the North Pacific under its NEWREP-NP programme, was not justified. At its annual meeting in May 2017, the full Scientific Committee of the IWC endorsed the panel’s recommendations, including that the lethal components of the programme should not occur until additional work identified by the panel is undertaken and reviewed.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in March 2014 that Japan’s previous so-called scientific whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, JARPAII, was illegal and not undertaken for purposes of science. The Court ordered the programme to be terminated, but Japan resumed whaling in the Antarctic at the end of 2015 under a new programme NEWREP-A, after a pause of only one year.  A previous Expert Panel convened by the IWC Scientific Committee in Tokyo in February 2015 concluded that the NEWREP-A programme also did not justify the killing of whales.

Patrick Ramage, Director of Marine Conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said: “Not only is Japan’s whaling scientifically useless it is also illegal. It is time that Japan acknowledged the opinions of scientific and legal experts as well as the views of the international community who are opposed to the cruel and outdated practice of whaling. If Japan continues to pursue its whaling agenda in the face of such overwhelming opposition, anti-whaling governments may need to bring international law to bear on Japan once more.”

The CITES Secretariat has initiated non-compliance proceedings against Japan regarding the hunting and trading of sei whales from the North Pacific. It is due to report to the forthcoming meeting of the CITES Standing Committee in November this year.

IFAW has long encouraged Japan to turn to benign research that does not involve killing whales. This would generate results of far greater importance to the international community than the limited research from dead whales.

Japan’s new programme for North Pacific whaling, NEWREP-NP, has increased the number of sei whales to be killed each year, from 90 to 134, and increased the number of minke whales to be killed annually from 102 to 170 in total. The country’s 2017 North Pacific whaling season started this week, with five vessels slated to catch 127 minke whales in coastal areas by mid-July, and another three vessels to catch up to 177 whales (134 sei whales and 43 minke whales) in the open ocean areas of the North Pacific until late September.

Japan’s NEWREP-A programme, first announced in November 2014, set out its plans to harpoon 333 minke whales each season in an expanded Antarctic killing zone, with the aim of taking almost 4,000 whales in total over 12 years.

IFAW opposes all commercial or so-called scientific whaling as there is no humane way to kill a whale.


Notes to Editors –

The full NEWREP-NP Expert Panel report can be found here

The IUCN Red List of threatened species lists the sei whale as Endangered, with previous commercial whaling having reduced populations by about 80%. Over 40,000 sei whales were killed in the North Pacific in the years before the IWC set a zero catch limit from 1976 onwards. . However, starting in 2001, Japan resumed sei whale hunting for alleged ‘scientific purposes’, killing a further 1,359 sei whales until 2016.

In November 2007, IFAW published a report on ‘The Taking of Sei and Humpback Whales by Japan: Legal Issues Arising Under CITES’. The report, dubbed the London Report on Illegal Whaling, detailed the findings of an international panel of independent legal experts which concluded the hunting of sei whales under Japan’s previous North Pacific whaling programme, JARPN II, as well as other whale species “are for primarily commercial purposes” and “plainly constitute international trade” under CITES and violated international law. The report can be found here.

In February 2013, the IFAW report, ‘The Economics of Japanese Whaling’, showed that the failing whaling industry in Japan is propped up by millions of dollars a year in public money. Annual subsidies average around 782 million yen (US $9.78m). In 2011/12, over three-quarters of sei whale meat put up for auction in Japan failed to sell.

The findings demonstrate that while whaling is unprofitable and catering to an increasingly shrinking and ageing market, whale watching is, by contrast, a growth industry. Whale watching currently generates around US$2.1 billion annually for coastal communities across the world. In Japan alone, whale watching generated around US$22 million in 2008. There are currently about 30 whale watching operators working from a dozen locations around the Japanese coast.

  About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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