Japan's plan to leave International Whaling Commission draws mixed reactions at home and overseas

JIJI, Kyodo

The government’s decision Thursday to leave the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial whaling has drawn mixed reactions at home and criticism abroad.

In the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, which is said to be the place where Japan’s whaling culture began, Mayor Kazutaka Sangen welcomed the move, saying: “We need to protect coastal whaling. We have been saying that we should leave the commission.”

A male resident of the town said, “There are people who have long been waiting for a return of our old practice of giving captured whale (meat) to neighbors.” However, he was concerned about the reactions of Europe and the United States, saying: “The international opinion against whaling will not change even after we leave. We will lose a lot.”

Municipal officials are busy gathering information at places that once prospered thanks to whaling, such as Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture and Kushiro, in southeast Hokkaido.

“We welcome it if it’s true,” Shimonoseki Mayor Shintaro Maeda told a news conference. The withdrawal from the IWC, which is led by anti-whaling countries, is “unavoidable,” he added.

A Kushiro official expressed hopes for market expansion, saying that consumers “may become more familiar” with whale meat if prices drop after the restart of commercial whaling.

After Japan leaves the commission, however, the country will be unable to catch any whales in the Antarctic Ocean, where half the country’s whaling for what it calls scientific research purposes is conducted.

According to Japanese government sources, the country is considering allowing commercial whaling in its nearby seas and within its exclusive economic zone.

Japan is likely to resume its commercial whaling in the northwestern Pacific. Shimonoseki’s Maeda is keeping a close eye on further moves by the government as the city is far from the waters and may face disadvantages.

Some were bewildered by the government’s sudden decision.

Komei Wani, who heads a group for educational activities about whaling in Shimonoseki, said, “Japan has carried out research whaling, taking care not to reduce resources.”

“To secure enough food on a global scale, that kind of approach is necessary,” Wani said. “It’s truly regrettable Japan will leave the stage after spearheading such efforts.”

A U.S. group dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins criticized Japan’s decision on Thursday.

“With this move the Japanese government is officially turning its back on international cooperation around conservation measures,” Astrid Fuchs, program lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said on the group’s website.

“This is devastating news for the whales and we can only hope that conservation-minded countries like the U.K. will take appropriate measures to respond to Japan’s decision, including the threat of sanctions.”

Japan’s attempts over the last 30 years to resume commercial whaling of relatively abundant species such as minke whales have been stymied by countries such as Australia and New Zealand.