The IWC (International Whaling Commission)
- The IWC is the organisation responsible for regulating whaling. It was formed in 1946 to manage sustainable hunting of whales. Now it is responsible for conservation of whales, but it is still an imperfect system reflecting its pro-whaling origins.
- In 1982 the IWC voted to introduce a Moratorium on Commercial Whaling, to take effect in 1986, however Japan never stopped killing whales (see ‘Scientific whaling’ below).
- In fact, more than 25,000 whales have been killed since the Moratorium was supposed to come into force.
- IWC decisions are based on a vote, and Japan “encourages” small third world countries to join the IWC and vote on their side. Japan is alleged to have handed out more than $400 million in bribes so far.
Japanese ‘Scientific Whaling’
- Japan exploits a loophole in IWC legislation, and has never stopped killing whales despite the Moratorium. They simply assign themselves a permit to undertake ‘scientific whaling’ (ie. killing whales for the purpose of scientific research) and continue hunting whales as before.
- This practice has been described as “commercial whaling in disguise” – particularly as the meat ends up for sale in high class Japanese restaurants.
- Japanese claim to be undertaking research by killing whales. However, most of the data collected by the Japanese ‘Scientific whaling’ programme is not required for management or conservation of whale stocks and is never published in reputable scientific journals.
- Many Japanese ‘research’ objectives are based on unsubstantiated or incorrect scientific assumptions. The few relevant research objectives they have (relating to population makeup etc) can be much better addressed using non-lethal methods (e.g. tagging, DNA profiling, and photo-ID etc), or by analysing a century’s worth of commercial catch statistics, plus data from the previous 20 years of Japan’s lethal research programme.
- Most Japanese ‘research’ objectives are directed towards finding data to support a return to commercial whaling, and/or studies on how to make whaling more efficient.
Whales and whaling
- Blue whales are the largest, and also the rarest whales. There were once 220,000 Blues in Southern Ocean, reduced to around 500 now (maybe 3000 worldwide) by past overhunting. This represents a reduction to approximately 0.2% of their original Antarctic population (or 1.5% worldwide). Despite being protected since the 1960s, their numbers have not recovered.
- Minke whales are the commonest of the rorquals (‘Great whales’) – mainly because they are the smallest so have not been subjected to the same hunting pressure yet (they were not targeted by whalers until the 1970s when larger species became too rare). Recent estimates show there could already be as few as 250,000 Minkes from 3 different sub-species in the Southern Ocean, despite Japanese claims of close to 1 million.
- The whales Japan hunts are the same ones that migrate past the coasts of NZ and Australia, and breed in the Pacific Islands. In addition to the ‘scientific’ whaling loophole Japanese whalers defy the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary declared in 1994 by killing them right in the heart of the protected area.
- A lot of the legitimate science is disputed by Japan which comes up with its own (dubious) figures to justify the supposed sustainability of a continued kill. They also argue it is a cherished cultural tradition for Japanese people to keep killing whales - However a recent Japanese Newspaper poll found only 4% of Japanese regularly eat whale meat.
- Massive industrial-scale Antarctic whaling 10,000 km from Japan is definitely not a tradition and only began around World War II when whale stocks around Japan were already commercially extinct (unviable for continued hunting). Whales were initially targeted by the Japanese for oil as a source of foreign currency!
- Japan initially claimed they were taking only Minke whales, but covert genetic analysis by New Zealand scientists revealed some meat for sale in Japan in the 1990s came from dolphins, and some from endangered species such as Sei, Fin, and Humpback whales.
- The NZ Conservation Minister said anti-whaling nations struggled to comprehend Japan's rationale for continuing whaling. "There is no financial value in it, there is certainly no science in it, so it has to be a twisted nationalism."
- Japan continues to demand an end to sanctuaries, and an abolition of the Moratorium to allow a return to commercial hunting. Following Japan’s example, Norway and Iceland have also resumed whaling in the Northern Hemisphere in recent years, killing hundreds of Minke whales, along with Fin and Sei whales (both species listed as ‘Endangered’ i.e. facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future).
- At the 2006 IWC meeting Japan managed to (buy enough support to) win the vote declaring that the Moratorium on Commercial Whaling is unnecessary and blaming whales for depleting the world's fish stocks.
- Following this success, Japan announced its plans to expand its whaling effort to kill the following numbers whales per year, beginning in the 2006-07 season:
In the Antarctic:
- Double their current Minke whale kill to 935
- 50 Humpback whales [the total population estimated to pass through New Zealand waters is only 2000!] (species listed as ‘Vulnerable’ i.e. facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future)
- up to 50 Fin whales (species listed as ‘Endangered’ i.e. facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future)
In the North Pacific:
- 220 Minke whales
- 50 Bryde’s whales (species listed as ‘Unknown Status’ due to lack of data)
- 50 Sei whales (species listed as ‘Endangered’ ie. facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future)
- 10 sperm whales (species listed as ‘Vulnerable’ ie. facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future)
Click here to view photos of Japanese commercial whaling.
Hover over the sides of the large image for the 'Forward' & 'Back' arrows.
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