Japan to Resume Whaling

Japan to Resume Whaling

Background

Whaling as a commercial activity started around the 11th century, with the trading of products from the northern right whale. From then, it steadily increased, to an industrial level, with the northern right whale and many others being hunted to the point of extinction. Worldwide concern led to the formation, in 1948, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Its legislative arm, the IWC (International Whaling Commission) convenes to examine evidence and decide upon regulations to conserve whale stocks, and in 1986 brought into force a worldwide ban on commercial whaling. Some countries are allowed to hunt a certain number of whales on grounds of maintaining their communities or culture. Some whaling is allowed on grounds of scientific research. Under the guise of such research, Japan has been continuing to hunt whales for commercial reasons, often in Antarctic waters. Since the ban, Japan has slaughtered over 15,000 whales.

Japan Withdraws

In Japan, whale meat has traditionally been consumed as a staple diet. Japan has long argued for permission to continue this as part of their culture, engaging in a long-running dispute with the IWC. Finally, in December 2018, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, announced Japan would be withdrawing from the Commission and resuming whaling openly in July 2019. There has been strong reaction worldwide, with many countries and groups criticising Japan’s decision. In Japan itself, Sam Annesley, Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan has condemned the decision, calling it ‘sneaky’ to slip the announcement in at the end of the year, to try and avoid media attention.

The Australian government has responded forcefully, expressing ‘extreme disappointment’. Australia maintains a sanctuary for cetaceans, part of which is in the Antarctic, and there have been many political clashes with Japan over its annual Antarctic hunts. A statement by Australian ministers says, “Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. We will continue to work within the commission (IWC) to uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling.”

Not all Bad?

It could be said that, as eating whale is a cultural aspect of the country, Japan’s move is justified. However, it has been pointed out that whale meat consumption in Japan is less popular and has actually been declining steadily: 1962 saw more than 233,000 tons of whale meat consumed, whereas in 2016 just 3,000 tons was eaten. Current consumption of whale meat represents just 0.1% of all meat sold in the country, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reports. In 2013, the industry had less that 1,000 people working in it and relied on subsidies from the government to support it. In a declining industry, it is debateable how much Japan’s whaling for domestic consumption would need to increase after leaving IWC jurisdiction.

Under the umbrella of scientific research, Japanese whaling has been taking place heavily in the Antarctic, where in 2016 they caught 333 minke whales, many of them pregnant females. Although numbers of whales hunted would not be limited after leaving the IWC, Japan has stated that it will limit its hunting to Japanese coastal waters. The Australian government, although condemning Japan’s leaving the IWC, does acknowledge that Japan no longer whaling in the Antarctic would in one way be positive, saying that their Australian Whale Sanctuary can “finally be true sanctuaries for all whales.”

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