Japan Whale Hunting: IWC Ban on Commercial Whaling Rejected After 30 Years Despite International Outcry

Japan will restart commercial whaling in its waters for the first time in three decades next summer, following plans to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The government said it would also stop hunting the ocean mammals in the Antarctic, in the latest chapter of the controversial practice, which has received international criticism.

Japan's withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission would take effect on June 30, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Reuters. The country will therefore resume commercial whaling in its territories and exclusive economic zones from July 2019, he said. Whaling "will be conducted in accordance with international law," said Suga.

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By leaving the IWC, Japan steps back from the body's founding document, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was signed in 1946. In 1986, the IWC's moratorium on whaling took effect, which put an end to commercial hunting of all whale species.

Japan had frequently cited "scientific purposes" to take advantage of an IWC loophole to kill hundreds of the mammals each year, according to Japan Times.

Japan's withdrawal from the 89-member IWC came after the body rejected its bid to restart commercial whaling in September. It had argued a "sustainable whaling committee" should be established, and that there were enough of some types of whale to allow for sustainable hunting, The Guardian reported.

Nations against whaling, led by Australia, the U.S., and the European Union, blocked Japan's proposal by 41 to 27 votes, the Japan Times reported.

At the time, Japan's vice minister for fisheries, Masaaki Taniai, said he "regretted" the block, and floated the idea that his government may leave the IWC. "Japan will be pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC," he said.

Australia's IWC commissioner, Nick Gales, told the meeting that there was "little and diminishing demand" for commercial whaling industry, The Guardian reported.

File Photo: A dish of whale meat carpaccio at a restaurant in Tokyo for the Ebisu whale meat festival, taken October 1, 2015. The Tokyo district of Ebisu is hoping to reel in outsiders with one of the country's more controversial traditions—slaughtering whales. YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Australia's Environment Minister, Melissa Price, and foreign minister Marise Payne, said their government was "extremely disappointed" by Japan's decision to restart commercial whaling and leave the IWC.

"The Commission is the pre-eminent global body responsible for the conservation and management of whales and leads international efforts to tackle the growing range of threats to whales globally, including by-catch, ship strikes, entanglement, noise and whaling. Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority," the statement read.

The statement reaffirmed Australia's opposition to all forms of whaling and its pledge to work with the commission to see that the global moratorium is observed.

Australia did, however, praise Japan for saying it would halt whaling in the southern Ocean. "This means that the International Whaling Commission's vast Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and our own Australian Whale Sanctuary, will finally be true sanctuaries for all whales," the statement said.

Sam Annesley, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement: "The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling."

japan whaling
Japanese whalers kill a Baird's beaked whale at the Wada port on June 25, 2006, in Chiba, Japan. The nation is set to continue commercial whaling for the first time in three decades, the government announced on Wednesday. Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images