The Nisshin Maru arrives in Tokyo, hull stained from red marks left by Sea Shepard, an environmental group. [Image Attribute: The Guardian]
On Friday, May 16th, a research whaling fleet left Shimonoseki, Japan consisting of two ships, the 754-ton Yushin Maru and 8,145-ton Nisshin Maru.  The departure comes one and a half months after the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled Japan’s supposed “scientific” whaling in the Antarctic in violation of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.  In 1982, the International Whaling Commission decided to halt all commercial whaling from 1985 onward.   Japan uses a provision in the International Whaling Commission’s Convention that allows for unlimited whaling for scientific purposes.  Many have questioned the scientific merit of Japan’s whaling expedition, and this led to the 2010 suit brought by Australia, who claimed that Japan was using scientific whaling as a guise for a commercial whaling operation.

How Japan's whaling compares to other countries'. [Image Attribute: ABC Fact Check]
How Japan’s whaling compares to other countries’. [Image Attribute: ABC Fact Check]
The clause in the IWC’s Convention that allows for scientific whaling broadly states that “any contracting government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorising that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the contracting government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this article shall be exempt from the operation of this convention.”  This gives any country that wishes to whale discretion to set its own limits and issue permits.  Iceland conducted scientific whaling from 2003-2007, then began objecting to the moratorium and restarting commercial whaling in 2012.  Norway and South Korea have also conducted scientific whaling since the moratorium.  Of the more than 15,500 whales killed for “scientific” purposes between 1985 and 2012, the largest proportion—more than 14,600—were killed by Japan.  The IWC also allows for a small number of countries to participate in “aboriginal subsistence whaling,” which allows for indigenous populations to continue a cultural background of whale hunting and use the catch for food.  The countries allowed include Denmark , Russia, St Vincent and The Grenadines, and the United States.

Dead Minke whales on a Japanese whaling boat [Image Attribute: ABC]
Dead Minke whales on a Japanese whaling boat [Image Attribute: ABC]
In order to support the expensive whaling operation, Japanese ships must sell the meat in commercial markets.  This aroused suspicion by Australian authorities, and is part of the reason why they brought the suit against Japan in 2010.  Australia, among other anti-whaling nations, has accused Japan as cloaking its whaling “in the lab coat of science.”  The International Court of Justice seemed to affirm this suspicion in its 12-4 ruling against Japan, and the outcome is an immediate ceasing of all of Japan’s whaling missions in the Antarctic Ocean.  However, this only applies to the JARPA II program, and none of their other smaller operations.  This allows Yushin Maru and Nisshin Maru to continue whaling in the northwest Pacific.  There is hope for future orders against Japan’s “scientific” whaling.  Peter Tomka, the presiding judge of the ICJ said that “The evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives.”  This implies that if more of Japan’s whaling is proven unscientific, then the whaling may stop altogether.  For now, Japan has chosen to respect the ruling of the ICJ, and they have ceased whaling in the Antarctic.  International pressure may be enough to force Japan and other nations to reconsider large-scale whaling, and the efforts of conservationists worldwide may come to fruition.

[Image Attribute: Greenpeace]