Harpooned: Japan will resume commercial whaling, depart international commission

Japan has joined the United States in being an isolated government amongst its environmentally conscious counterparts, as the East Asian island nation announced it was officially bowing out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The United States also made a similarly unpopular move of exiting the Paris Agreement in 2017, despite the hard glares of shaming eyes directed at the world’s third most populous nation by member nations and environmental groups alike.

The IWC departure means Japan will resume commercial whaling activities as early as July 2019. Whaling activities would take place within Japan’s economic zones and territorial waters, while avoiding the Antarctic and other Southern Hemisphere regions, according to news reports.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1982 (the ban was implemented in 1986); Japan had been a member of the IWC since 1951, according to news reports. Japan was one of a select few nations who participated in whaling, in the first place; the other nations are Norway and Iceland.

The East Asian island nation had protested the whaling moratorium in 1982, but caved in to pressure by the United States a few years later to instead hunt for whales for research purposes. Norway, coincidentally, also protested the IWC commercial whaling moratorium. IWC records show commercial fisheries in Japan, Norway, the Soviet Union and Iceland caught a combined 25,862 whales since 1985. Norway and Iceland were the only two nations to catch whales since 1993.

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand challenged Japan’s whaling research activities in 2013, claiming the East Asian island nation relied on special permitting to circumvent the IWC moratorium. The challenge, which was filed with the International Court of Justice, resulted in an order for Japan to stop whaling activities in the Antarctic.

Statistics published by Animal Welfare Institute stated Japanese whalers “killed more than 12,000 whales under the guise of scientific research.”

Catching whales for human consumption, however, has a special place in Japanese culture, according to a BBC News report.

The real question, looking forward, is whether Japan will be able to convince the world that sustainable whaling practices are possible. Will other nations, just the same, follow in Japan’s footsteps and also resume whaling practices?

Japan began hand-harpooning for whales in the 12th century, apparently a few hundred years after whaling activities were first recorded in places such as France, Norway and Spain. Modern whaling activities were developed in Norway during the 1860s. The Norwegian way of whaling reached Japan in 1899.

Whaling activities reached the United States in 1712 and continued here through 1940. The IWC was established several years later, in 1948.