Commercial whaling is banned under international treaty but, since 1987, Japan has been taking advantage of a loophole under which it is possible to conduct lethal research in the name of science. For this reason, two Japanese whaling ships, the Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No 2, left the Shimonoseki port in Yamaguchi, western Japan, to join the Nisshin Maru, their mother vessel.
A fishery ministry official says that the fleet is scheduled to catch about 260 whales, including 100 minke whales and 10 sperm whales, between now and early August.
The northern minke whale is considered “Lower Risk Near Threatened” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Species. The sperm whale is an endangered species, after at least a million were killed by commercial whalers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Japan has “misused and abused” the research provision, says the Humane Society International. In its initial formulation, the research provision was “meant to allow the killing of a few whales a year to answer scientific questions that could only be answered by examining dead animals.” But every year, Japan has increased its sample size sand also “sells the meat and blubber to its domestic market.” The Humane Society International also says that both Iceland and South Korea have been exploiting the scientific research loophole, to obtain whale meat to sell Japan.
International Whaling Commission to Meet
In just about six weeks, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is to hold its annual meeting in Panama. As the BBC‘s Richard Black writes, two sure-to-cause contention issues are on the agenda: (1) the Latin American bloc has started a a bid to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic Ocean; (2) Japan has set down a motion to reserve its right to request a commercial or quasi-commercial hunting quota for minke whales in its coastal waters.
However, both of these issues have been previously introduced and tabled numerous times. Reviewing the history of past IWC meetings, Black notes how “febrile and anarchic,” and “politicized”, the world of whaling can be. For instance, since IWC rules require a three-quarters majority, it is extremely hard to bring important measures forward to be discussed, as the commission’s members are equally split between those who oppose whaling and those who vote for it to occur.
The IWC delegates could “spend days locked in meetings where wrangling about the definition of a quorum is used as a proxy for much more fundamental divisions.” How many more whales will be killed in the meantime?