Surely there is nothing new to say about Japanese whaling -- they continue to do it and many of us continue to deplore it, right?
Well, actually Japan has just made some moves that have deepened even further the rift between nations on this issue into a vast gaping chasm. In recent weeks, Japan has relaunched its North Pacific whaling program, with a bigger kill quota than before for sei whales in the North Pacific. Perhaps even more significantly, Japan has passed a new Whaling Act that dramatically underpins its whaling activities.
Japan conducts its commercial whaling in the guise of scientific or 'special permit' whaling, claiming that this is covered under Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. However, as described in previous articles, the International Court of Justice found that Japan's whaling did not comply with Article VIII of the ICRW. Nonetheless, Japan has made new 'research plans' and issued itself new permits for this activity, which in reality provides whale meat to the Japanese marketplace.
Japan's new Whaling Act - 'for the implementation of scientific research of cetaceans aimed at implementation of commercial whaling matters' - enshrines a lot of what Japan was, in fact, already doing. It boldly and officially makes whale killing a legal commitment of the state, paid for by the Japanese public. It is also now very clear that the primary aim of this lethal whale research is in fact to support the resumption of commercial whaling, which the International Whaling Commission currently bans. Significantly, the new law also contains a strong legal commitment for the Japanese government to allocate sufficient funding out of the national budget to establish and maintain the resources necessary to hunt whales, including crews and ships. This is important as the 8,000-ton behemoth "factory ship" that is used in Japan's whaling expeditions to both the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific, is clearly in need of replacement. It will take an enormous financial commitment to do this and the law appears to pave the way for a new vessel.
The law, which the Japanese parliament passed surprisingly rapidly and with bipartisan support, also contains provisions that empower individuals to address 'acts of interference' with whaling, extending to the refusal of disembarkation and other measures relating to immigration of individuals. These measures may apply to interference with cetacean hunting beyond that on the high seas, including Japan's domestic dolphin hunts.
This renewed commitment to whaling has been greeted with dismay around the world. For example, the 28 member nations of the European Union (including the UK) have responded with a message published on the IWC website. Wrapped in diplomatic language, it expresses regret at Japan's resumption of the North Pacific hunt and 'extreme concern' at the risk it poses to an endangered population of minke whales, known as the J-stock that the hunt will clearly take. This follows other recent diplomatic actions by the EU, including joining a demarche (the highest form of diplomatic protest) led by New Zealand against Japanese whaling in December 2015 and, in January 2017, sending a letter to the Government of Japan expressing serious concerns following the announcement of its new Scientific Whale Research Program in the western North Pacific.
The Australian Minister for the Environment and Energy, The Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, issued an even clearer message. In a media release dated July 20th he says:
Australia is deeply disappointed by Japan's recent announcement that they have resumed another of their so-called 'scientific' whaling programs, this one in the North Pacific. This comes despite the clear and unambiguous conclusions of the International Whaling Commission's review process that Japan has not demonstrated the scientific need for the whaling.
This is a useful reminder that the IWC's own expert body has not only not approved the North Pacific research plan but has heavily criticised it. Japanese news reports suggest that the IWC Scientific Committee's conclusions have been misrepresented, reporting that the Committee supports the whaling programme. However, a letter published last month in the journal 'Nature' and supported by 40 members of the IWC's Scientific Committee clarifies the truth. It says:
Last month, the country issued permits for a new scientific whaling programme (NEWREP-NP) in the North Pacific. This is despite the assessment by an International Whaling Commission (IWC) expert panel in February 2017 that Japan's lethal sampling remains unjustified. The panel also concluded that the NEWREP-NP proposal gave insufficient justification for sampling design and sample size, and failed to show that additional age data from dead whales could improve management of whale stocks. There were further concerns about the impact of proposed catches on minke whales around Japan and South Korea -- populations that are already threatened by high fisheries bycatch.
And the letter goes on to note that Japan's lethal research continues despite the availability of widely used non-lethal alternatives for acquiring the information needed for stock management.
So, where does this leave us? The theories of those who believed that some rapprochement could be reached with Japan are now firmly impaled on its new legal harpoon and latest whaling activity. There is no space for negotiation and at this time of high-level concerns on other matters, including national and regional security, it is unlikely that diplomatic efforts will intensify or have any effect.
In all probability, the real battleground now lies within Japan. Politicians there need to be told the truth that their 'whaling research' meets no economic or nutritional need, is not rooted in traditional Japanese culture and is also not scientifically defensible. It makes profits for only a select few and in Japan it needs to be appreciated that the opposition to whaling is not disrespectful, culturally insensitive, or anti-Japanese but pro-whale, pro-science, pro-conservation, and humanitarian in nature. Decisions made at the relevant international bodies are pro-animal welfare and pro-world order, and it's time for Japan to embrace this view in deference to its many allies in the community of nations.