Japan to limit Antarctic whaling program to minke whales

September 03, 2014

By TAKUYA SUMIKAWA/ Staff Writer

In a bid to restart suspended research hunting, Japan decided on Sept. 2 to limit the target of its Antarctic whaling program to minke whales in accordance with the order handed down by the U.N.’s top court.

The central government will present its new plan at the general meeting of the International Whaling Commission scheduled from Sept. 15 in Slovenia.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ordered a temporary halt to the research whaling program in the Antarctic, ruling that it is not for scientific purposes as the Japanese government had claimed.

According to the court, the current program fails to justify the large volume of whales it says it needs to harvest. The court also acknowledged that Japan actually harvests far less than its stated target amount.

Moreover, Japan did not sufficiently seek ways of conducting whale research that does not involve killing, the court said.

In order to resume Antarctic whaling, the program has to be thoroughly improved, the court ordered.

The ruling did not cover Japan’s research whaling in the Pacific Northwest.

Japan had conducted Antarctic whale hunts for research purposes to revive commercial hunting, which has been prohibited since 1982. Following the ICJ’s order, however, the nation was forced to abandon Antarctic research hunting in fiscal 2014. A review of the current program is required if Japan hopes to restart the hunts in fiscal 2015.

The current program has set a total annual cull limit of 1,035 and targets only three kinds of whales--minke, finback and humpback. The current limit for minke whales is the highest at 935 annually.

In recent years, however, the actual catch has not met those figures. One reason is that Japan halted the culling of humpback whales, which are popular among whale watchers, owing to objections from anti-whaling countries, even before the court ruling. This prompted questions over the scientific nature of the project.

The government decision will limit the target of Japan’s Antarctic whaling program to minke whales, which have large populations, and rigorously recalculate the harvesting quota for the future over the next few years in line with IWC approval. It will decide around November on the number of research hunts necessary for conducting the recalculation, which is expected to sharply reduce the minke whale limit.

As more than half of the member countries of the IWC constitute anti-whaling nations, including Australia and Brazil, Japan is expected to spark a heated debate over research whaling at the IWC general meeting in September, the first to be held since the court ruling.

By TAKUYA SUMIKAWA/ Staff Writer
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A minke whale caught for research purposes is seen in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in April 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A minke whale caught for research purposes is seen in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in April 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • A minke whale caught for research purposes is seen in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in April 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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