In spite of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) opposition, Japan has announced, several times, their plans to resume the “taking” of minke whales in the Antarctic for scientific research later this year. Japanese Whale Hunting Negotiator Joji Morishita declared again on June 22, that Japan plans to continue its lethal research of minke whales with or without IWC approval. Morishita was quoted as calling potential international enforcement on these issues “environmental imperialism.” The IWC, back in 1982, imposed the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Since the IWC is a voluntary international commission, nations may choose whether they will or will not abide by its rule. Japan opposed the moratorium, but remained a member of the IWC to have a voice in the commission. Since the moratorium, Japan has harvested whales under research permits pursuant to the IWC moratorium exception. However, back in 2010, Australia filed suit and later won against Japan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The opinion stated, among other things, that harpooning and taking whales is not conducive to scientific research. Since the decision was made in 2014, Japan has submitted its justifications to an IWC Scientific Panel, which has established no basis for Japan’s plans for future scientific whaling.
Japanese experts from the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) argue that lethal research, or killing whales for purposes of scientific study, aids determination of a potential sustainable catch if commercial whaling were to resume. The ICR focuses on determining the sexual maturity of minke whales and their stomach contents as necessary elements for researching a sustainable whale catch in the Antarctic. The ICR’s second justification is that it must research the whale’s role in the Antarctic ecosystem. It seems simple that killing animals for purposes of their conservation seems counter-intuitive (probably because it is). It is obvious from our constant scientific and technological advances that there are sufficient nonlethal means to research the issues professed by the ICR. However, it is quite evident that other motives are at play here.
Iceland and Norway, both of whom are parties to the IWC, and both of whom objected to the commercial whaling moratorium, continue commercial whaling practices and report their catch limits and scientific findings to the IWC annually. This raises several issues. First, I wonder why, since Japan professes to have an interest in whale conservation, it insists on killing these animals to advance that goal. If the motive is to circumvent the moratorium for purposes of commercial whale meat, the least the country could do is be forthcoming with it. It is certainly beneficial that Japan wishes to comply with international standards to justify its whaling, as pointed out in a recent article. This allows for necessary input into the problems with Japan’s “research” from the international community. However, when the input from the international community means nothing to them, such disregard should be recognized, especially when it is for the protection of a sentient being, who has no voice in the matter. Also, when the international community has decided that whales require protection from commercial hunting, the community should be able to enforce its consensus. The fact that there is no legitimate enforcement of the moratorium is bothersome.
Although the ICJ made an extremely important ruling in Australia v. Japan, Japan blatantly disregards the ICJ decision. Although the IWC has found no adequate reasoning for continued lethal research of minke whales in the Antarctic, Japan disregards its opinion. Japan insists on continuing its unnecessary whale killings under the guise of scientific research. International law is a difficult thing, and imposing a moratorium on an activity that is a cultural norm for certain countries leads to further legal and ethical issues. However, these are all issues are far too telling of the overarching problem: the lack of focus on the animal. Japan still sees the animals as a commodity to be researched, bought, and sold, since ultimately they seek to justify “sustainable commercial whaling” through their lethal research. While we sit and ponder our quarrels and opinions between countries, these whales, which have no voice in the matter, are needlessly dying. The Paul Watsons of the world look good in the face of international inaction.