BREAKING: IWC shrinks loophole Japan uses to kill whales in the name of science
Japan can no longer play both judge and jury to its own whaling program, says Humane Society International
Delegates at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia have today voted in favour of the Australian-New Zealand resolution to strengthen the review process for whaling under ‘special permit’, a provision under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling under which Japan has since 1987 issued to itself a permit to kill whales for scientific research. Japan has killed more than 15,000 whales under the guise.
Speaking from Slovenia, Kitty Block, Senior Vice President of Humane Society International, welcomed the decision, saying: “Today’s vote shrinks the IWC’s special permit loophole that Japan has exploited ever since the global moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect. In defiance of the ban, Japan has issued itself a license to kill more than 15,000 whales under the guise of science. This ruse has never fooled anyone and yet it will continue for as long as the IWC special permit processes allow Japan to play both judge and jury to its own whaling program. The decision taken today at the IWC affirms the Commission’s right and privilege to scrutinise special permit proposals. Even though Japan and its whaling supporters voted against this resolution, the nation is still expected to abide by the Commission’s decision otherwise it will once again refuse to honor its conservation obligations. With its continued defiance and its unfettered whaling, Japan is not just killing whales but making itself a true outlier in the community of nations.”
HSI’s Senior Program Manager Alexia Wellbelove said “We welcome the important efforts Australia is making in the IWC in moving it towards a more conservation focussed agenda and ensuring that Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is subject to increased scrutiny by the Commission.”
Overnight two further votes have also taken place on the fourth day of the International Whaling Commission meeting in Slovenia.
Delegates have voted in favour of Resolution 15 on Cetaceans and Ecosystem services, noting the increasing research that shows that whales positively enhance marine ecosystem productivity by recycling essential nutrients.
Whales feed at depth and then defecate nearer the water surface, providing nutrients to the plant plankton which grow in the sunlit upper waters. This process has been named the “whale pump” and delivers vital fertilizers in the form of iron and nitrogen. Whale migrations are also a key part of this process, seeing great whales move thousands of miles from nutrient-rich feeding waters to nutrient-poor birthing waters and delivering vital nutrients in the process.
Speaking from Slovenia, Mark Simmonds, Humane Society International’s Senior Marine Scientist, said “The IWC’s recognition of whales’ ecological value exemplifies its remarkable positive evolution as a steward of their fate. After centuries of commercial whaling, it is only now that we are coming to understand the remarkable roles they play in helping to maintain and nurture marine ecosystems. Whales are the giant ecosystem engineers of the sea, moving nutrients around to help fertilise our oceans and help maintain healthy seas. Protecting these majestic creatures isn’t just the right thing to do ethically, but could also be the wise thing to do ecologically. This is a great day for the IWC as a leader in thought and action concerning whales.”
By passing the Resolution, the IWC has formally recognised the important role that these cetaceans play in looking after the health of the marine environment, as well as the loss to marine ecosystems resulting from declining whale populations. This would necessitate a sea-change in attitude – with whales no longer viewed as expendable and exploitable, or competing with human interests by ‘eating all the fish’ as Japan and other whaling nations have claimed. Instead, the intrinsic ecological value of these animals would be enshrined in IWC thinking going forward. Moreover, it would mean acknowledging the extent to which we have underestimated the impact of whale population declines on marine ecosystems, and provide an additional impetus to ensure that human activity doesn’t exacerbate those declines further.
HSI has also praised delegates for voting in favour of an urgent draft resolution by the USA to save Mexico’s vaquita porpoise from extinction. The vaquita is thought to be the most critically endangered cetacean species in the world. Severely threatened by illegal fishing that sees these cetaceans caught in gillnets used to catch totoaba fish, there are an estimated 59 vaquita remaining in the Upper Gulf of California.
Claire Bass, UK Director for Humane Society International, said: “The IWC this afternoon passed, by consensus, a Resolution on the critically endangered vaquita in the Upper Gulf of California. With their population size estimated at less than 60 animals and declining, the vaquita is at the brink of extinction, so action must be taken now to stop these precious few remaining animals being killed in illegal totoaba gillnets. This Resolution puts further weight behind a recommendation from the recent CITES meeting to strengthen enforcement to eliminate the illegal international trade in totoaba swim-bladders. For the vaquita’s survival it’s now or never, countries must step up and support Mexico's efforts to prevent the extinction of this beautiful little porpoise.”
The Resolution sees the IWC support a permanent, complete, and effective gillnet ban in all fisheries operating in the Upper Gulf of California to prevent the imminent extinction of the vaquita, and urges the Mexican Government to eliminate any exemptions to the ban, which can facilitate illegal fishing for totoaba.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the vaquita as Critically Endangered in 1996, and the population has significantly declined since then as a result of bycatch through entanglement in fishing nets (gillnets).
In March 2014, the International Court of Justice rejected Japan's claim that its whaling program in Antarctica (Southern Ocean) was for scientific purposes and ordered an immediate halt to the program. Japan initially indicated that it would obey the ruling, but then announced it would resume whaling in the Southern Ocean with a new whaling programme that - in its view - would take into account the ICJ’s ruling.
At the last meeting of the IWC, in 2014, the Commission called on Japan not to launch any new special permit whaling until the IWC had had the opportunity to review the new proposal. However, Japan ignored this and duly developed its new scientific whaling program –NEWREP-A. In February 2015 an independent expert panel of the IWC found that Japan had not made its case for killing whales for science.
In May 2015, Japan presented NEWREP-A to the IWC’s full Scientific Committee which includes scientists working for the Japanese Government. Inevitably, it returned a mixed verdict. That said, many scientists agreed with the key finding of the IWC’s independent panel, reaffirming the view that Japan’s argument for killing whales on scientific grounds was weak.
In October 2015, Japan made a declaration to the United Nations that it would no longer be bound by ICJ jurisdiction regarding living marine resources. This allows Japan to sidestep the ruling or any future rulings of the UN’s highest court just after the country had been given a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
On Friday 27th November 2015, Japan quietly issued notice to IWC member nations that it would implement NEWREP-A and return to whale killing in the Southern Ocean, and in December 2015, the Japanese whaling fleet resumed whaling in Antarctica, killing its full self-allocated quota of 333 minke whales. (This is in addition to its ongoing whaling in the North Pacific where it killed 90 sei whales, 25 Bryde's whales, 70 minke whales.)
The resolution agreed at IWC 66 relates to the 2014 ICJ ruling that said the issuance of special permits for scientific research cannot depend alone on the opinion of the country issuing the permit to itself. In other words, whether or not to allow a special permit should be reviewed by the IWC.
For too long Japan has treated Article VIII as carte blanche to kill whales, and when the suffering and death of so many whales is at stake, that status quo can’t be tolerated. Efforts to limit the processes to introduce a mandatory review by other countries is absolutely the right thing to do, however at the same time it is important to recognise that there remains no justification whatsoever for lethal research.