Japan launches first whale hunt since ICJ ban



The nation’s whaling fleet left port Saturday under tight security for its first hunt since the U.N. top court last month ordered Japan to stop killing whales in the Antarctic.

Four ships departed from the fishing town of Ayukawa in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, marking this season’s start to a coastal whaling program not covered by the International Court of Justice’s landmark ruling, which found Japan’s Antarctic Ocean expedition was a commercial operation masquerading as scientific “research whaling.”

Some observers had predicted the government would use the cover of last month’s ICJ judgment in The Hague to abandon what many have long considered to be a facade for commercial whaling. But the decision to continue whaling was likely to set off a new battle with critics who had hoped the ruling would bring an end to slaughters the government has embraced as part of Japan’s cultural heritage.

Some Diet lawmakers have derided the criticism from abroad as little more than cultural imperialism by the West while local residents in Ayukawa expressed fears the ICJ decision could ultimately ruin their livelihoods.

Around 10:30 a.m., whistles sounded as the flotilla, accompanied by three coast guard patrol boats, set off after a ceremony attended by about 100 local dignitaries and crew members.

There were, however, no protesters among the crowd — a clear difference from the wintertime Antarctic hunt, which saw often violent clashes on the high seas between the whaling fleet and activists trying to end the hunt.

Ayukawa, located on the northeast coast, was ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and still bears the scars. Local residents say their small community’s existence rests heavily on the whaling expeditions.

“No matter what the (ICJ) court ruling was, all we can do is let everyone see that we’re still hanging in there,” said Koji Kato, a 22-year-old whaling crew member. “People from outside are saying a lot of things, but we want them to understand our perspective as much as possible. For me, whaling is more attractive than any other job.”

Yuki Inomata, who works in a local whale meat processing factory, said he was glad the annual hunt got under way despite questions about the future of the industry. “I don’t know what will happen next, but I hope we can continue whaling,” said Inomata.

Tokyo has called off its next Antarctic hunt, slated to begin in late 2014, and said it would redesign the controversial whaling mission in a bid to make it more scientific. But vessels would still go to the icy waters to carry out “nonlethal research,” raising the possibility that harpoon ships might return to the Antarctic the following year.

That would put Japan on a collision course with anti-whaling nations such as Australia, which took the case to the ICJ, arguing that Tokyo’s “research whaling” was aimed at skirting a ban on commercial whaling.

Japan has hunted whales under a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium that allowed it to conduct lethal research on the mammals, but has openly admitted the meat makes its way onto store shelves and restaurant menus.

The government has always maintained that it intended to prove the whale population was large enough to sustain commercial hunting. Coastal whaling programs in such places as Ayukawa are considered part of “research whaling,” but were not targeted by the ICJ ruling.

Like the United States, Japan extensively hunted whales in the 19th century as a source of fuel and food. But its taste for whale meat has waned considerably in recent decades, as Japan burgeoned economically and became capable of farming more of its protein.

On Tuesday, a new poll said that 60 percent of the public back the whaling program, but that only 14 percent actually eat whale meat. Although not difficult to find, whale meat is not a regular part of most people’s diet in Japan.

However, powerful lobbying forces have ensured that the government continues to subsidize the whaling hunts with taxpayers’ money.

  • AnimuX

    The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan was in violation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) on several counts:

    * that the special permits granted by Japan in connection with JARPA II do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling

    –the ‘research’ excuse is not legitimate–

    * that Japan, by granting special permits to kill, take and treat fin, humpback and Antarctic minke whales in pursuance of JARPA II, has not acted in conformity with its obligations under paragraph 10(e) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling

    –violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling–

    * that Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations under paragraph 10(d) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in relation to the killing, taking and treating of fin whales in pursuance of JARPA II

    –violation of the factory ship ban–

    * that Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations under paragraph 7(b) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in relation to the killing, taking and treating of fin whales in the “Southern Ocean Sanctuary” in pursuance of JARPA II

    –violation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary–

    * decides, by twelve votes to four, that Japan shall revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence granted in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that programme.

    Unfortunately, the corrupt bureaucrats within Japan’s government have decided to continue flouting international law and press forward with whaling in the north Pacific — the ‘research’ program called JARPNII.

    JARPNII is functionally no different than the Antarctic hunt (JARPAII). Yet, because the ICJ was not asked to specifically rule against JARPNII, the government of Japan has decided to simply shrug off the fact that its keystone ‘research’ was just struck down by an international court.

    Japan is literally killing endangered and protected whales, during an international moratorium on whaling (and for JARPA within the boundaries of an international whale sanctuary), while importing whale meat from endangered fin whales and protection stocks of minke whales from Iceland and Norway, all while the International Whaling Commission repeatedly calls on Japan to stop shooting whales.

    Japan’s government and whaling industry have a long history of regulatory violations. Historically Japan’s whalers have killed endangered and protected species, exceeded quotas, killed undersized whales, hunted in off-limits areas and out of season. Japan even setup poaching operations (pirate whaling) all over the world in the 1970s and 80s where foreign crews were hired to kill whales illegally and smuggle the unreported catch back to Japan outside of IWC oversight.

    The whaling continues for the benefit of corrupt bureaucrats who continue to ensure government spending on whaling because they expect to be rewarded with high paid jobs in the commercial whaling industry once they leave public office. This type of corruption is so common in Japan they have a word for it: ‘amakudari’. Hardly anyone actually eats whale meat in Japan these days and if the government did not include it in public school lunches most Japanese children would never know the taste of whale.

    Unfortunately, the government of Japan has no respect for international law and continues to undermine international conservation efforts for the profit of a select few.

  • Al_Martinez

    Why is Japan’s whale program subsidized? It’s not like whale meat is an essential product to keep Japan moving ahead. Let the whalers deal with pure capitalism: let the market determine how many whales are caught. I wonder just how many whales would have to be caught to feed the occasional 14% whale meat eater. Take the subsidy money and retrain these whalers to do something more productive. Considering Japan’s labor shortage, there are more than enough opportunities for displaced whalers.