Japan to End Whaling Hiatus With New Research Hunt in Antarctic

  • Japan plans to take 333 whales in hunt lasting into March
  • Australia, New Zealand criticize restart of research whaling

A common minke whale is unloaded at Kushiro port during a research whaling operation in Hokkaido in September.

Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Japan plans to renew its research hunt for whales in the Antarctic, ending an almost two-year hiatus prompted by an international court ruling that its killing of whales couldn’t be justified for scientific purposes.

The fleet will set out on Dec. 1 and seek to take 333 whales in a study set to last into early March, Japan’s Fisheries Agency said in a statement on its website. That would be about a third of the previous research whaling target of 1,000.

Decades of over-hunting left many whale populations endangered and triggered an international campaign to save the animals that culminated with the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Since the ban, Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales by taking advantage of the treaty’s exception for scientific whaling. Conservationists call it a loophole and say the research could be accomplished by non-lethal means.

The United Nations International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its hunt in March 2014, and said that the country shouldn’t restart whaling unless it can prove the hunt is for scientific purposes and research can’t be done by non-lethal means. The International Whaling Commission in September passed a resolution to limit the use of the scientific-research exception to the international ban on whaling. The Japanese fisheries agencies said there would be a non-lethal component to the research.

‘Strongly Opposed’

Japan killed almost 95 percent of the 14,410 whales hunted for research since the moratorium, according to a lawsuit brought by Australia. In the 34 years prior to the moratorium, a total of 2,100 whales were killed for research, Australia said. Japan considers the hunting of whales part of its traditional lifestyle and has been able to keep its whaling fleet in working order through the research hunts.

Japan, Norway and Iceland have been among the biggest proponents of lifting the commercial moratorium to allow the hunting of healthy whale stocks.

Australia said it “strongly opposed” the Japanese decision and called the research program “unnecessary,” while New Zealand said it would seek an end to whaling off Antarctica.

“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an e-mailed statement on Nov. 28

New Zealand will consider “all options” to end to Southern Ocean whaling, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Todd McClay, said in a separate statement.

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