International wildlife convention decision could lead to more endangered whale deaths

Japan’s illegal trade in sei whale meat looks set to continue for now following a disappointing decision made at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES is an international agreement between governments that ensures international trade in specimens of wild animals does not threaten their survival, and it was hoped that Japan’s sei whale slaughter, which violates international regulations, would be ended at its latest Standing Committee meeting.

Sadly, that opportunity was missed when the committee chose to defer a decision on the legality of the whale hunts until late 2018.

The government of Japan has conducted a long-standing programme of hunts in the North Pacific killing 134 sei whales a year despite this species being endangered and a ban on their use for commercial purposes. The Japanese hunts are conducted under the guise of ‘scientific research’ in order to try to avoid the ban yet much of the meat ends up on sale.

Although some specimens, including the whales’ eyes, testes and ovaries, are preserved for scientific research, the vast majority of each whale - about 12 tonnes – is frozen and vacuum-sealed for sale for human consumption in Japan.

sei whale
sei whale

In 2016, the CITES Secretariat began an investigation into whether these actions by Japan are violating the CITES convention. At the latest meeting this week, the Secretariat staff reported back to the Standing Committee on the responses received. Although several parties, including African and Latin American nations, pushed for urgent action at this meeting, the chair concluded that the committee would give Japan another year to provide responses to the original questions and asked Japan to invite the Secretariat to conduct a fact-finding mission.

As a result, Japan has been given a free pass by CITES, and the opportunity to kill another 134 sei whales before a decision on the issue is made. 

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