Japan to Double Whale Kill in Antarctic Waters

TOKYO, Japan, April 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Japanese government intends to double its catch of minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean late this year and begin hunting humpbacks and fin whales too as part of its research whaling program, an official of the Japan Fisheries Association said on condition of anonymity. A moratorium on commercial whaling is in effect, but research, or scientific whaling is permitted under International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules.

An IWC spokeswoman said the organization has received the Japanese proposal, which would bring its minke whale catch to 800 from the present level of 440 per season.

Japan argues that there is a need to increase its target species to analyze the ecosystem of the Antarctic Ocean and develop a method to manage whale resources. Conservationists say there is no scientific need to kill whales and non-lethal methods of study would be just as effective.

Kyodo news service, quoting unidentified sources, said Tuesday that Tokyo expects worldwide protests of these extended whaling targets.

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Minke whale swims close to shore near Petermann Island in the Antarctic. (Photo courtesy Galen Frysinger)
The expected protests erupted immediately. Anti-whaling Australia was appalled, and Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said that Australia will "continue to pursue a permanent global ban on all forms of commercial and scientific whaling."

Campbell said he will raise the issue with New Zealand Environment Minister Marian Hobbs at their scheduled meeting in Darwin today.

Australia and New Zealand recently agreed to work together to establish a whale strandings database and marine mammal strandings network.

"We know that humpback whales migrate every summer along the east and west coast of Australia and attract many thousands of domestic and international tourists," Campbell said.

"If these reports of Japan's proposed whaling increase are true it will significantly raise the stakes at the next meeting of the IWC in Ulsan, Korea in June," he said.

Discussions on lifting the commercial whaling moratorium will be held at the upcoming IWC meeting, divisive talks that have been held at every annual IWC meeting for the past decade.

A decision to end the moratorium needs a 75 percent vote in favor, and to date, the anti-whaling nations have been able to hold off the Japanese who want to hunt whales for commercial use. But every year the margin gets slimmer as Japanese officials persuade small island nations hungry for financial aid that it is in their best interests to allow commercial whaling.

Still, Japan is not pleased with the direction the International Whaling Commission is taking. In 2003, the IWC established a conservation committee, which Japan opposes as being too far from the organization's original purpose of managing whaling, not conserving whales. And the moratorium remains in place.

Last year, Japan set 2006 as a deadline to leave the International Whaling Commission if it is still unhappy with the IWC's performance at that time.

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Humpback whales migrate along the Australian coasts each year. (Photo courtesy National Oceans Office)
"There is absolutely no scientific case for killing whales and neither are there economic grounds for Japan expanding its Antarctic hunt," says Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International (HSI), based in Australia.

"The demand for whale meat in Japan is falling and the hunt is already heavily subsidised by the government," she said Wednesday.

Beynon said that in doubling its Antarctic hunt, "Japan is being deliberately provocative ahead of a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in June, where governments will be negotiating whether to lift the ban on commercial whaling."

HSI is awaiting a ruling from the Federal Court as to whether the organization can bring a court case against the Japanese Whale Company for killing whales within Australia’s Whale Sanctuary, and Beynon is critical of the Australian government for not supporting its case.

"The government has also refused to bring a case against Japan at the International Court of Justice for abusing the right to kill whales for science," Beynon said. "In both cases, the government has said it prefers to persuade Japan through diplomatic channels rather than the courts."

But Japanese officials are not easy to persuade. Leader of Japan's delegation to the IWC, Minoru Morimoto, said at last year's IWC meeting that the Japanese public and parliamentarians had "come to the end of their patience" and were tired of waiting for the moratorium to be lifted.

Japan already kills minke, sei, Bryde's and sperm whales for what it says is scientific research. Under IWC rules, any meat that results from research whaling must be utilized, and Japan sells whale meat in markets and restaurants. Japanese officials maintain that eating whale meat is part of the Japanese culture.

Until the moratorium was put in place in 1986, many species of whales were hunted to the brink of extinction, although not minke whales, which are still relatively abundant.

The population estimate of 750,000 for this species that Japan has used to justify its whaling was reviewed by the IWC Scientific Committee at its 52nd meeting in Adelaide and was found to be no longer valid. New calculations suggest a figure which is "appreciably lower," but the Scientific Committee has not been able to say if this figure is correct.