GENEVA – Japan has found itself in hot water over its “research whaling” in the Northwest Pacific amid a possible violation of an international treaty on endangered species.
Japan drew criticism during a five-day meeting in Geneva of a standing committee on monitoring wildlife trade over its hunting of sei whales from anti-whaling countries, with Australia noting that research whaling could also be used for commercial purposes.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is also known as the Washington Convention, prohibits international trade in sei whales and effectively bans the catching of them in the open sea.
But Japan has continued to hunt the whales under the auspices of research whaling, as scientific research is not restricted under the convention.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Japan’s research whaling in the Antarctic violated the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Since then, there has been growing speculation that CITES would also take up the issue of Japan’s sei whale hunts.
During the conference in Geneva, which ran through Friday, some proposed banning trade with Japan, but the panel instead recommended that Tokyo provide sufficient information to the CITES secretariat and accept a monitoring team.
The Japanese government is expected to accept the team if the CITES secretariat concludes it is necessary to do so.
“What Japan has done is calculated the collected samples and selection of research areas. … It’s difficult to say that it’s for scientific research,” said Atsushi Ishii, an expert on whaling and an associate professor at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies at Tohoku University in Sendai.
“Chances are high that (Japan’s whaling) will be recognized as a violation of the treaty,” he added.
Meanwhile, the committee adopted a proposal that Japan should submit a report next year explaining how to regulate its ivory trade in accordance with the treaty.
The move came after four countries that are home to African elephants submitted a report criticizing Japan. While the United States and China have already banned domestic ivory trading, Japan is drawing criticism as it continues to allow the trade.