Japan has announced it will return to the Antarctic within weeks to hunt minke whales for purposes of "scientific research."
In a series of documents sent to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Japan's IWC Commissioner Joji Morishita confirmed that the country will begin a new, 12-year program this austral summer, with the provision for a review after six of those years are completed.
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What Now for Whales?
The IWC voted in 1982 to set its commercial whaling catch limits to zero for an indefinite period, beginning with the 1985-86 Antarctic season. In 1987, Japan announced it would begin a program of "research whaling" in the Antarctic, taking advantage of Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), which states that "any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research."
Skeptics instantly asserted that Japan's move was a naked ploy to continue commercial whaling under another form, but Japanese whaling authorities refused to bow to criticism for over a quarter-century -- until, in March 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), responding to a case brought by the government of Australia, ordered a halt to the program.
By a 12-4 margin, the court agreed that, in the words of presiding judge Peter Tomka, "the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with [its whaling program] are not for purposes of scientific research."
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Stung by the ICJ verdict, Japan suspended its Antarctic whaling for the 2014-15 season; rather than concede defeat, however, its whaling authorities devised a revised plan and promised to subject them to a transparent review of outside scientists.
When an expert panel of the IWC's Scientific Committee analyzed the new proposal earlier this year, however, its response was barely more complimentary than the ICJ, declaring that Japan "does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling" to meet its research objectives.
The smackdown was, said Scientific Committee member Phil Clapham, a cetacean biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, "a stunner ... Never before has a body associated with the Scientific Committee told Japan that they have failed to demonstrate a need for killing whales."
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In the letters to the IWC on Friday, Japan said that it had considered the criticisms of the special panel, and of the full Scientific Committee. Its conclusion after such consideration? "It does not require any substantial changes to the contents" of the whaling plan.
And as for the ICJ? That criticism also has been dealt with, Japan advising UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that, as far as it is concerned the court's jurisdiction conveniently "does not apply to ... any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea."
Even seasoned observers were take aback by the brazen cynicism of Japan's move, and by whaling authorities' apparent confidence that their gambit would pay off.
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"Fisheries bureaucrats in Japan are betting they care more about killing whales than government officials around the world care about saving them," Patrick Ramage, Global Whales Program Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told Discovery News. "They may be right."
"Whether through distraction or disinterest, the clearest international and scientific case ever against the sham of scientific whaling is being squandered. That's bad news for whales and deeply disappointing for anyone genuinely concerned with conservation, legitimate science and international law."
"It is increasingly clear that the decision to end this senseless slaughter will ultimately be made in Tokyo, by Japanese decision makers, for reasons that make sense to them."