Japan considers leaving IWC to resume commercial whale hunts

Ignacio Smith
December 22, 2018

Japan plans to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume commercial hunting, media reports say.

Japan hunts whales for what it calls "research purposes" but critics say that's a sham.

However, Nicola Beynon, from HSI in Australia, believes that Tokyo's decision to leave the rules-based order of the IWC would place Japans' North Pacific whaling program completely outside the bounds of worldwide law.

"Under the rules of the International Whaling Commission, of which Japan is a member, there has been an international ban on commercial whaling since 1986 - though there is an exception for whaling conducted with ecological research in mind". For instance, Norway and Iceland use technical objections to get around the ban, and Japan historically has claimed it was hunting whales for scientific purposes, The Guardian reported.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries. Critics accuse Japan, however, has always been to use science as a cover for commercial whaling by the back door. In contrast, the IUCN lists the Antarctic minke whale (B. bonaerensis) as "near threatened".

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While fewer people eat whale today than in the past, Hideki Moronuki, Japan's Alternate Commissioner to the IWC, said there could be food shortages if commercial whaling continues to be outlawed.

The country is withdrawing from IWC and, with that, it is expected to resume commercial whaling activities.

Japanese government officials framed the issue as an economic one.

Officials in Japan say eating whales is part of its culture.

According to a spokesperson for the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries, no decision has yet been made, "but all options are being studied".

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She also fears that Japan may recruit other pro-whaling nations to leave the IWC, "leading to a new chapter of widespread and unauthorised killing of whales for profit".

Rothwell, who is one of Australia's leading global law experts, said the significance of a Japanese departure from the IWC can not be underplayed, given Japan's previous strong commitment to multilateral institutions and worldwide law.

Japan's whaling practices remain a deep point of contention in the otherwise strong relationship between Australia and Japan.

Moreover, in 2014, the United Nations' International Court of Justice ordered that Japan stop its annual hunts in the Antarctic Ocean, because these hunts were clearly not for scientific purposes but rather for dinner menus.

It is very unusual for Japan to withdraw from an worldwide organization.

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