Japan urged to leave its harpoons at home as whaling fleet prepares for return to the Antarctic

©IFAW - archive photo
Monday, 30 November, 2015
Tokyo, Japan

Japan’s whaling fleet is being urged to leave its harpoons behind and pursue only non-lethal research as it prepares for a return to the Antarctic in the coming weeks.

Japan has stated its intention to resume killing whales in the Southern Ocean, despite its Antarctic ‘scientific whaling’ programme being found not for the purposes of science and ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March last year. Following this landmark ruling, Japan paused its Southern Ocean whaling for one year.

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 has a chance to examine Japan’s proposal at its next full meeting in Slovenia in September 2016.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (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 Japan’s initial announcement that it would abide by the ICJ ruling, as well as its decision to pursue non-lethal whale research last season.

However, in November 2014 the Japanese government revealed details of its new Southern Ocean whaling proposal, called NEWREP-A, with the aim of harpooning 333 minke whales in the coming season and almost 4,000 whales in total over the next 12 years in an expanded Antarctic killing zone. The fleet is expected to leave port next month.

Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Programme Director for IFAW, said: “A resumption of Antarctic whaling would be contrary to the World Court’s ruling as well as expert scientific opinion and the decisions of the International Whaling Commission.

“Earlier this year we were pleased to see Japan apparently shifting more towards humane, non-lethal research on whales. We commended Japan for the fact that no whales were slaughtered in the Southern Ocean last season, and we congratulate them on the success of the research voyage which gathered far more valuable data from studying live whales than dead ones.

“We urge Japan once more to leave its harpoons behind when its fleet returns to the Antarctic. Our governments cannot stand idly by and allow the needless slaughter of whales to resume and we encourage them to increase pressure on Japan to abandon once and for all this cruel and outdated practice.”

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.

Last month, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Japan sought to exempt itself from the jurisdiction of the ICJ for any future cases involving scientific whaling, or exploitation of other marine life.

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.

IFAW opposes all commercial or so-called scientific whaling as there is no humane way to kill a whale. Instead, IFAW supports whale watching as a humane and sustainable alternative which is better for whales and coastal communities.


For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on +44 (0)20 7587 6708, mobile +44 (0)7917 507717 or email csterling@ifaw.org. Alternatively visit www.ifaw.org

Notes to Editors –

A reduced number of boats from the Japanese fleet headed to the Antarctic in January this year to carry out sighting surveys, biopsy work and photo identification of whales led by the country’s Institute of Cetacean Research.

IFAW encourages Japan to join the 10-nation SORP (Southern Ocean Research Partnership) founded by Australia to coordinate non-lethal whale research.

In February 2013, IFAW launched a report, The Economics of Japanese Whaling, which 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 (UK £6.47m).

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 UK £1.38 billion annually for coastal communities across the world. In Japan alone, whale watching generated around UK £14.5 million in 2008. There are currently about 30 whale watching operators working from a dozen locations around the Japanese coast.

Despite a global ban on commercial whaling, Japan continued to hunt whales under the loophole of ‘scientific whaling’, yet while the meat is put on sale in restaurants and supermarkets, little science has been produced from the slaughter of these animals.

 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

Post a comment

Press Contact

Clare Sterling (IFAW UK)
Contact phone:
+44 (0)20 7587 6708
Contact mobile:
+44 (0)7917 507717
Contact email:


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