Japan has attracted heavy criticism from other countries and conservation groups after announcing it will resume whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean under the guise of collecting "scientific data".
In new documents submitted to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Joji Morishita, IWC commissioner for Japan, said his nation would begin a new whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean – also known as the Southern Ocean or Austral Ocean – with plans to catch 333 minke whales per year beginning in early 2016. This is one-third the amount of animals caught annually in Japan's previous whaling program in the area.
"In order to achieve conservation of [Antarctic] resources while pursuing their sustainable utilisation and to understand and predict the effects of factors such as climate change, it is scientifically imperative to obtain an accurate understanding of many aspects of the Antarctic marine ecosystem including its animals and their dynamics through collection, accumulation, and analysis of scientific data," Japan's whaling research plan advises.
Japan's previous whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean ended after a ruling issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March 2014. Japan had claimed that its whaling in the region was justified on research grounds under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, but the court ruled otherwise, finding that the sum of its research output in almost a decade – just two studies based on research on nine whale specimens – didn't add up with the bulk of slaughter.
"In light of the fact the [research program] has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited," said presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia.
Despite what it says is sincere consideration of the ICJ's ruling and reasoning, Japan has now announced that it will whale in the Antarctic Ocean anyway with a new amended program – a decision that's been met with outrage from conservation groups and representatives of other nations who are party to the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling.
"We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called 'scientific research'," said Greg Hunt, Australia's minister for the environment. "Japan cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the [scientific] questions. There is no need to kill whales in the name of research. Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans."
Writing in The Japan Times, Tokyo-based historian Jeff Kingston said Japan's resumption of whaling flouts the rule of law and would have negative repercussions outweighing any potential upsides for the country's whaling industry.
"Whaling advocates in the Japanese government may think they are justified on cultural and culinary grounds, but they are harpooning 'Brand Japan.' Japan's scientific argument for the resumption of whaling was examined and found wanting by two international panels of experts," he wrote.
"Moreover, in terms of Japan's global public image, whaling is a losing proposition. It's a diplomatic scarlet letter that negatively influences public opinion in Europe, North America and Australia over a program that uses taxpayer money to kill something that hardly anyone craves – all for the sake of a national identity that few embrace."
At this point it's unclear if any further legal challenges or consequences will result from Japan's unilateral decision to resume whaling, but it's unlikely we've heard the last of this.