In a flouting of international conservation values, Japan just announced that its latest hunt, which concluded Tuesday, has claimed the lives of 173 minke and sei whales – adding to the toll of thousands that its whalers have claimed in an era when just about the entire industrialised world has abandoned the practice.


Japan’s commercial whaling is like a bad dream from which the rest of the world cannot wake up. Year after year, its government-sponsored fleet trawls the world’s oceans to kill whales as a meat-gathering exercise, while trying to hoodwink the global public with a claim that it’s doing so for science. This despite the fact that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014 rejected Japan’s assertions and ordered an immediate halt to Japan’s other scientific whaling program in the Southern Ocean. This despite the fact that in April 2017, 42 International Whaling Commission (IWC) signatory nations adopted a resolution calling on Japan to abide by the ICJ ruling. This despite the fact that the signatories to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling never envisioned the scientific exemption clause in the treaty to support commercial catches. This despite the fact that the market for whale meat continues to decline in Japan. And this despite the fact that global public opinion, with few exceptions, roundly condemns and disapproves of Japan’s flagrant disregard for international law and comity between nations, something that’s been in evidence again and again through the years.


The HSUS and Humane Society International have been campaigning to protect whales from whaling and other threats for nearly half a century, and the passage of the global commercial moratorium was a proud and decisive victory, one that has spared countless thousands of whales since the mid-1980s. There are just three nations involved in commercial whaling — Japan, Norway, and Iceland — and their intransigence in the face of almost universal censure astonishes me every time I think about it. Their machinations at the meetings of the International Whaling Commission demean their standing in the community of nations, and waste a lot of time and energy that could be better spent on the pressing challenges of ocean health, climate change, toxic pollution, marine debris and entanglement, ship strikes, and other threats. Quite apart from the tragedy of animal deaths from whaling by an effectively dead and abandoned industry, the continued predation of the world’s whales by these three nations represents the worst sort of distraction from the urgent conservation work we could all be doing to help all marine creatures and their habitats. On top of all that, who doesn’t see that whale watching and ecotourism hold far more economic promise and benefit than killing the animals?


Getting nations to stand up to Japan when it comes to whaling is a battle that does not end. Image: Christin Khan, NOAA / NEFSC


Getting nations to stand up to Japan when it comes to whaling is a battle that does not end, whether or not a hunt has taken place or recently concluded. It involves mobilization at the biennial meeting of the IWC itself, and associated maneuvers to thwart the whalers in that body. It involves pressing governments to exercise available options and channels for bringing pressure to bear on a nation that in other respects has proven itself a strong partner. It involves strict attention to the dividing line between modern commercial whaling and aboriginal subsistence whaling, which is practiced in the United States and a few other countries, and has enjoyed special protection. It involves sustained efforts to shift public opinion and curtail market demand for whale meat in Japan. And it involves an unyielding determination to see the international community adopt the strongest possible agenda of whale and ocean conservation across the board.


Right now, in the U.S. Congress, Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is advancing a resolution to urge the United States to do more to establish itself as a true global leader in whale conservation and protection, by expressing the strongest possible opposition to commercial whaling and by confronting Japan for its wrongdoing. As we gear up for IWC 2018 late next year, we’ll do even more to press the case against whaling and its defenders, while continuing our efforts to diminish market support and public opinion favoring whaling in Japan itself.

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