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The Science of Whaling – bending science to fit the politics

As Japan’s whalers report their lowest kill of minke whales in years, Japanese Government scientists are today seeking to get the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to endorse their new proposal to kill hundreds of minke whales in the southern Ocean (sometimes abbreviated to NEWREP-A).

The Japan Times is reporting that a whaling company employed by the Japanese Government to carry out the ‘research’, has said, on Wednesday, that,

“…it hunted 19 minke whales of the coast of Miyagi Prefecture this year, the lowest number since the whaling for research  purposes started there in 2003

Setting out on the 10th April to kill 51 minke whales, the fleet hunted for some 23 days but blamed bad weather and the area that they had to hunt in for the low numbers of actual kills.

This hunt was part of the Japanese Government’s attempt to keep its failing whaling markets alive by subsidizing whaling through its abuse of the IWC’s Article VIII permit whaling or, so-called ‘scientific whaling’ programme in the North West Pacific Ocean.


Many scientists and world governments were disheartened but not surprised when the Japanese Government effectively ignored part of the recent International Court of Justice ruling against its Southern Ocean whaling programme, when it chose to continue slaughtering whales in the North Pacific, despite binding guidance from ICJ that its should reconsider all its whaling in light of the judgment.

WDC have previously been working with our colleagues at Client Earth to develop some guidance on the implications of the ICJ ruling, which is also applicable to the specialists sent to the IWC Scientific Committee. Both WDC and CE believe that the decision that condemned Japan’s Antarctic whaling is also applicable to their so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in the North Pacific, and Japan should cease all such whaling immediately.

The Japanese Government had to cancel last year’s Antarctic whalingprogramme after being ordered in March 2014 to cease its whaling activities in the Southern Oceans by the United Nation’s International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The Japanese Government’s quango, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), in a weak attempt to answer some of the long list of criticisms of the ICJ, has stated that the new research period will last for 12 years from 2015.

The new whaling plan sets out a program for hunting some 333 minke whales annually, down from up to 900 in Japan’s previous whaling that was legally condemned by the ICJ.

However, it may well be that, Japan’s future whaling program may still be in contempt of the ICJ ruling if it’s not careful. The Japanese Government has submitted its new proposed whaling plan to the International Whaling Commission  but the IWC has instructed its own Scientific Committee to review the ICJ decision with respect to any future scientific whaling permit applications.

An IWC expert panel meeting earlier in 2015 has already said that the proposal is not up to the current, but now out-dated (pre-ICJ), standards employed by the IWC.’

If the full IWC decides that Japan’s proposals are not necessary for the conservation of whales or to assist in the management of whaling (a position that it has consistently held since the adoption of the moratorium on commercial whaling) this may well mean that Japan’s new taxpayer-funded whaling program will follow its predecessor, when Japan’s nationalistic and self-serving interpretation of ‘science’ led it directly to the doors of the ICJ.

In September 2014, and following the ICJ ruling, the IWC passed a resolution seeking to bring Article VIII whaling back under IWC control.

Reading the text of this specific IWC statement (Res 2014-5) one wonders if the IWC Scientific Committee will or should, be able to undertake any further work on NEWREP-A at this time?

The Resolution instructs the IWC Scientific Committee to revise its own terms of reference for considering any new or existing proposals and then to forward these to the IWC Commission meeting to decide if they fulfill what they require in light of the ICJ ruling.

Thus, the Scientific Committee is instructed to have considered how it will revise its current procedures and then, and only then, will the Commission consider these recommendations, effectively reserving the right of the Commission to issue further clarification after the Commission’s initial consideration.

In San Diego, at the annual meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee, Japan is currently trying to get endorsement for its new southern ocean programme before the IWC has had time to come to terms with how it needs to modify its own procedures to comply with international law.

This haste is typical of Japan who is desperate to get its ‘cash black-hole’ of a whaling fleet back to sea as soon as possible, but its also indicative of a government department that is not interested in conservation, but solely its potential to make money.

In a 2011/12 report Evaluation of Grant Aid for Fisheries”  undertaken by Nomura Research Institute, Ltd. entrusted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan in FY2011,” the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs codified, and called for, a concept of ‘Diplomatic Effect’ to be introduced into its Overseas Development Aid (ODA Evaluation Guidelines.

At page 26 of the report, when discussing diplomatic goals specific to the fishery grant aid scheme, it states that, when considering the potential of identifying potential recepient nations for grant aid, Japanese officals should be looking for states that share common values regarding the use of marine resources, and therefore, Japanese ODA should be used in,

‘Developing mutual understanding concerning sustainable use of resources, without undue emphasis on conservation…’

When a nation’s government states that it will give aid to countries that are willing to show support for Japan through a shared value of  ‘…without undue emphasis on conservation…’ we must question what it means when that same nation is asking for international scientific endorsement of the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of whales…

You can find out more about whaling in Japan