Japan to Restart Antarctic Whaling, Prompting Backlash

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A harpooned minke whale is trussed to the side of a Japanese whale ship. Japan plans to restart hunting minke whales in the coming weeks and months off Antarctica. REUTERS

Japan has announced that it would once again begin whaling in Antarctica, and will hunt and kill up to 333 minke whales. This species is nominally protected by the International Whaling Commission and a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling by the organization, which includes the vast majority of industrialized countries as members.

But Japan as well as Iceland and Norway continue to whale, the latter two in open defiance of the ban. Japan claims, though, that the hunt is for scientific research, as noted in a joint statement released today by Japan's fisheries agency and Foreign Ministry. Ships will leave for the Antarctic December 1.

The announcement drew sharp criticism from environmental groups, as well as countries neighboring Antarctica including New Zealand and Australia. "We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called 'scientific research,'" Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt told Bloomberg.

In March 2014, the United Nations International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its "research" hunt, suggesting that data derived from killing whales was limited and the activity violated rules set forth by the International Whaling Commission.

But the ruling only applied to the whaling program existing at that time. After the ruling, Japanese conservationist Nanami Kurasawa told The New York Times that the decision was an important one but one that left the government a lot of leeway: "The Japanese government could start research whaling again but under a different name, and it would be out of the ruling's purview."

And now, 20 months later, that's exactly what has happened. The planned catch of 333 minke whales is one-third of its previous planned annual haul of 1,000 whales. Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales since commercial whaling was banned (by the vast majority of countries) 29 years ago.