Japan’s whaling fleet returns to port after resuming Antarctic whaling in defiance of international law

Thursday, 24 March, 2016
Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s whaling fleet returned to port today (Thur), after ignoring international law and global opposition to resume its illegal slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean.

According to media reports, the Japanese government announced that the fleet arrived back in Shimonoseki, western Japan, earlier today. It had set out with plans to harpoon 333 minke whales. While there has so far been no official statement on the number of whales killed during this season’s hunt, Japanese government sources suggest the full quota was taken.

Japan’s previous self-allocated Antarctic quotas allowed for around 1,000 whales to be hunted but in reality far fewer were taken in the last few years - 252 minke whales in the 2013/14 season – so a full kill quota of 333 whales would represent a significant increase.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) continues to call on anti-whaling governments to bring international law to bear on Japan again in a bid to end its cruel practice once and for all.

Despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in March 2014 that its so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic was illegal and not for the purposes of science, Japan ignored pleas to leave its harpoons behind and pursue non-lethal research.

It also disregarded a 33-nation demarche whose signatories included the US, Australia, New Zealand and EU member countries united in their opposition to Japan’s slaughter of whales in the Antarctic.

The ICJ judgment was strongly backed by the conservation body for whales, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which recommended that the Japanese government should issue no further permits to kill whales before the IWC would be given a chance to examine Japan’s proposal at its next full meeting in Slovenia this September. Although a member of the IWC, Japan has repeatedly ignored IWC decisions including the adoption in 1994 of the Southern Ocean as a whale sanctuary where no whaling should take place.

IFAW has long encouraged Japan to turn to benign research that does not involve killing whales. This generates results of far greater importance to the international community than the limited research from dead whales. IFAW welcomed an initial announcement by Japan in 2014 that it would abide by the ICJ ruling, but the pause in its Antarctic whaling was short-lived.

In November 2014 the Japanese government revealed details of its new Southern Ocean whaling proposal, called NEWREP-A, with the aim of harpooning almost 4,000 whales in total over the next 12 years in an expanded Antarctic killing zone. The fleet left port in early December.

Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Programme Director for IFAW, said: “It’s weird science. According to their own proposal, Japanese fisheries scientists are specifically targeting juvenile and adult females to determine their age of sexual maturity. They are hunting for 150 fertile females, and treating the killing of males as collateral damage to get them.

“The scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission and independent experts reporting to that body have shown Japan's rationale for this so-called research and its method for calculating sample size are both spurious. This was a central issue identified by the ICJ when it ruled such whaling illegal.

“If our Japanese friends really care about science and international law, it’s time to put down the harpoon and chopstick, stop cutting these creatures into bits in the name of science, and join Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries studying living whales in their ocean environment in the 21st Century.”

An expert panel of scientists which examined the new whaling proposal in February 2015 concluded that the case for killing whales had not been made, and that certain prior analyses were needed. At its meeting in June 2015 the IWC’s Scientific Committee found that the necessary work had not been carried out or was incomplete.

In October last year, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Japan exempted itself from the jurisdiction of the ICJ for any future cases involving scientific whaling, or exploitation of other marine life. However, according to legal experts other avenues are still available to hold Japan to account under international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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


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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation