As 2018 drew to a close, Japan announced their resignation from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Currently, Japan sits accompanied by Norway and Greenland as the only nations to openly commercially hunt whales.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” commented Sam Annesley, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan.
60 years ago, the mammals were a staple to post-war Japan’s national diet, with 233,000 tonnes of meat being consumed annually. However, only roughly 1% of the 1962 consumption is consumed today, which accounts for merely 0.1% of Japan’s meat consumption. In desperation to find uses for the catch, whale meat is most prominently used for school lunches, and dog treats. As the popularity of whale meat plummeted in Japan, with only the elderly buying the product to re-live nostalgia from decades prior, youth simply do not see whales as appetizing. Despite the declining popularity, Japan argues that the consumption and hunting of whales holds deep cultural significance, and can economically revitalize fishing villages.
The Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshide Suga announced, “From July 2019, after the withdrawal comes into effect on June 30, Japan will conduct commercial whaling within Japan’s territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone, and will cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean/the Southern Hemisphere.” Although leaving the IWC, Japan limited their practice to specifically within their 200 miles of territorial waters, and vowed to only hunt the Mink, Sei, and Bryde species whose populations they’ve deemed stable.
Even when aligned with the IWC, Japan has long been criticized for continuing commercial hunting of whales under the guise of research. These excursions were government subsidized, so it is believed that the return of legitimate commercial whaling will reduce government expenses on the whaling industry that’s barely financially viable.
The departure from the commission was long believed imminent, as Japan had historically argued that most whale species had reached stable population numbers. The nail in the coffin fell recently, when Japan’s proposal at re-structuring the IWC decision-making process went unapproved. If successful, this would have greatly improved Japan’s chances of establish IWC-approved commercial whaling. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had previously stated that the IWC’s original objective of creating a sustainable whaling industry had been altered over the years, to what he now considers solely conservation.
Created as an alternative to the International Whaling Commission, the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) was created by Norway, Iceland Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Their objectives are similar to IWC, seeking to conserve global whale populations, but NAMMCO also supports the monitored hunt of whales with stable populations, a perspective the IWC does not share. Japan has yet to join NAMMCO.
As of January 2019, 89 nations remain members of the International Whaling commission, but many fear that Japan’s resignation will ultimately be the catalyst for other nations to do so as well.
Image Credit: Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia