National Geographic News
Photo of a minke whale being hauled onto a Japanese fishing vessel.

Crew members off-load a minke whale taken under Japan's scientific whaling program.

Photograph by Kyodo News, AP

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published June 12, 2014

On Monday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee that he would like to step up efforts to resume commercial whaling.

"I want to aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources," Abe told the committee, according to the Guardian.

A March ruling by the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) halted Japan's whaling activities in the waters around Antarctica. The ICJ ruled that Japan's scientific whaling program in the region—which took whales in order to gather data and then sold the meat to markets in Japan—wasn't scientific at all and could be considered a commercial operation. (See "Japan Halts Whaling Program in Response to International Court Ruling.")

Critics of Japan's scientific whaling program have long argued that the lethal take of whales is no longer necessary to gather the scientific data the country wants to collect, such as information on pregnancy rates and age at first reproduction.

Concerns about the unscientific nature of Japan's Antarctic whaling program prompted Australia, supported by New Zealand, to bring a case against Japan to the ICJ in 2010. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully described Abe's comments as "worrying" in a statement.

"While it is not clear precisely what Prime Minister Abe is proposing in the short term, the fact that he has told a Parliamentary Committee that he wants to aim towards the resumption of commercial whaling is both unfortunate and unhelpful," McCully continued.

Back and Forth

Japan has abided by a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling—initiated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC)—since its inception. However, a loophole in the provision allowed Japan to take whales for scientific purposes.

The scientific program aimed to show that whale populations around Antarctica had recovered from previous commercial whaling activities and that the moratorium was no longer needed, says Leigh Henry, senior policy adviser for wildlife conservation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington, D.C.

Japan hoped that the moratorium would be lifted and it could commence with harvesting those whales, she adds. (Related: "Anti-Whaling Activists Put Focus on Complex Law and Bloody Tradition.")

The ICJ's March ruling applied only to Japan's activities around Antarctica. And although Japan agreed to halt its operation in Antarctica at the time, it has continued taking minke whales in its coastal waters using the scientific loophole, Henry says.

"We're hugely disappointed in the statement from Prime Minister Abe," Henry says. "I think everybody hoped that the [international] court's decision would put an end to [Japan's scientific whaling] and Japan would walk away," she adds. "But clearly they're not."

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

49 comments
Zee Dudhia
Zee Dudhia

Japanese Prime Minister is corrupt. Soon South Africa will take control of the Antarctic waters as this is our heritage. If you whale our whales then you are at war with us... 

Allison Mcadam
Allison Mcadam

Research by tagging these majestic animals. The only thing that they seem to want to research from these animals is what new receipt they can come up with. Stop raping our world.

kleine jun ontolan
kleine jun ontolan

soon enough. whales might be able to evolve to the next level.. we don't know, they might as well learn to fight for themselves..

but please!! stop this crazy killings!!

Reza Taufik Ismet
Reza Taufik Ismet

I understand that the Japanese love to eat fish, and there are plenty other kinds of fishes that can be consumed. But whales and dolphins?

anne boad
anne boad

I guess we know what to think of the Japanese government in this matter, and the citizens who support them. In a world where we get so little right, leaving the whales alone seems like a no-brainer. But in reality, it is the hunting of them that requires no brain.

Jerry Horwood
Jerry Horwood

Next time someone tries to argue for whaling by comparing it to eating cows, ask them if they think its fine to kill cows by firing explosive harpoons into them.

Enah Mae Dayanan Taran
Enah Mae Dayanan Taran

...I think Japan's action is offensive... and knowing that they went all the way to Antarctica to "research about whales" but in the end take them to their country and sell their meat is just stupid and distrusting...


young people like me dream of personally seeing those magnificent creatures no matter where they are and we're hoping to contribute in saving them but Japan's simply slaughtering those whales as if there are a lot of them right now...


come on, where's the logic in that???

Christine Miller
Christine Miller

No more aid to Japan, ever.  As long as they continue slaughtering everything that moves in the ocean.  How disgusting and shameful.

Cody Zinda
Cody Zinda

How about all the tuna and dolphins these fish face f*cks slaughter everyday. No shame in there game.

Hanneke van Ravesteijn
Hanneke van Ravesteijn

Sad, we almost killed the all the Whales and now they start all over again. Why? STOP KILLING WHALES!!!!!

HAN CHIEH WU
HAN CHIEH WU

STOP KILLING WHALES by a fake name of scientific! 

Lorretta Rollinson
Lorretta Rollinson

The 10,000 Inuit in Alaska are allowed to kill 50 bowheads a year but - at this week's International Whaling Commission conference in Japan - the host nation pushed through a ban on all indigenous hunts in retaliation for restrictions on its own whaling.

Arnold Brower Jnr, a whaling captain from Barrow in Alaska, told BBC News Online that the whale hunt plays a vital role in the lives of the Inuit, making up over half the meat that they eat.

"If we didn't have it, we'd have to camp next to the McDonald's in Anchorage or Seattle or somewhere," he says. "If you take the whale hunt away, you take away our culture."

He rejects the idea of outside interference in their whaling, and says it's a "human rights issue" for the Inuit.

Lorretta Rollinson
Lorretta Rollinson

for Japanese , whale is a cultural food , same as it is for  a selected northern American cultural group , yet the usa can not see this fact

Karl Malloy
Karl Malloy

To get some perspective on how the Japanese see Western requests, imagine an activist group of Hindus showing up in Topeka demanding that Americans cease eating beef because they believe the cow to be sacred.

Joel Bhatt
Joel Bhatt

Argh, you don't need to kill the whales to understand how to "manage" them. If someone took it upon themselves to destroy the whaling ships the world would be better off for it.

Bev Dennis
Bev Dennis

The Australian government has spent years trying to stop the Japanese for whaling for 'scientific' reasons. There will be no stopping them if allowed to commercially whale.

Abhaya Kp
Abhaya Kp

scientific evidence my foot! japan PLEASE stop killing whales for food. We just can't afford any more extinctions, sob sob:((

Rafael Abreu
Rafael Abreu

Whale meat is most cancerigenous than cow raised in Chernobil. Says scientists.


Ellen Bowser
Ellen Bowser

The International Court of Justice cannot stop Japanese fisherman/AKA Research  Vessels from killing Whales, maybe the people of Japan will.   STOP EATING THEM!!!!!!!!

Andrea Hernández
Andrea Hernández

Hasta Cuando Japón!! Déjenlas vivir!! por favor! no sigan! Chile Quiere a las Ballenas :)

Anna Gorska
Anna Gorska

It's sad that for so long we don't have any idea what to do with them and their whale killing... Nothing is changing and something should change.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

Scientific whaling is an oxymoron. This needs to be stopped.

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

You have got to be kidding!!! President Obama should do some serious talking to Japan's Government. They are single handedly responsible for more whale deaths then ANY ONE ELSE! Who do they think they are kidding by saying it is for scientific research. They are serving it up in the finest restaurants as an expensive delicacy. This MUST BE STOPPED AT ALL COSTS!!! They are not going to stop unless there are some serious consequences for the MURDER of these sentient beings. We send space vehicles to other planets and moons and sterilize them so we don't accidentally contaminate any possible life forms there, Yet we stand by while they hunt these sensitive creatures to extinction. Now where is the logic here?!

Come on, let's get as many countries to demand that they stop this slaughter before its to late.

PLEASE!!!!!!!

Swiftright Right
Swiftright Right

Well after Japan took all of that Red Cross money and diverted it towards their whaling fleet after the last tsunami I  say we should  make the stopping of whaling a requirement for free trade with America. 


If they throw too much of a hissy then we should do a round of naval exercises with China.

John C.
John C.

Why would a civilized country do this?

anne boad
anne boad

@Lorretta Rollinson I also can't see bullfighting as a legitimate cultural pursuit. My own people got rid of bull-baiting, bear-baiting, dog-fighting, gladiatorial combat, cockfighting. Simple truth is, I don't put cultural values above evolving concern for our environment and the sentient beings in it. Hopefully, my culture will be able to stop torturing animals in the name of food soon, and provide a better example to Japanese culture.

Christine Miller
Christine Miller

@Lorretta Rollinson  A cultural FOOD?  Give me a break.  And I suppose dogs are a cultural food in China and Korea and Vietnam?  Eating animals is disgusting enough, especially endangered ones.  It's time the human race realized we're in the 21st century and evolved a little.

anne boad
anne boad

@Karl Malloy I think the appropriate parallel would be "imagine a bunch of ranchers turning up in Delhi and demanding the Hindus begin eating beef because they believe them to be merely food."

sam glover
sam glover

Subways in the UK are no longer allowed to sell bacon cause it's offensive to Muslim's, but they don't think that they are in England and it's offensive to bacon loving British people that can't get a bacon sub.

Subaru Obishi
Subaru Obishi

@Rafael Abreu I'm half japanese... Idk about if whale meat is eaten cook still is cancerous but Japanese people have history of getting colon cancer due to eating raw stuff... Just sharing...

Karl Malloy
Karl Malloy

@Ellen Bowser  The people of Japan are 60% in favor of whaling (and that's AFTER the court decision).  So they can stop it and they choose not to.  The fact that you can't understand why means simply that you don't understand the issues, not that they are wrong.

Subaru Obishi
Subaru Obishi

@John C. Well because of bacon... (a bit of joke intended) Japanese get their bacons on whales...

C. Dufour
C. Dufour

@Tim Blankenship @Lorretta Rollinson I wouldn't quote sea shepered, they often make up facts and figures.  Your best off using books and scientific literature


The Japanese have been whaling for millienias but the modern day techniques of harpoons began in the 12th century


source:

"History of Whaling". Japan Whaling Association. Retrieved 2013-08-16. "12th century Hand-harpoon whaling starts in Japan"

Scott Gurtel
Scott Gurtel

@anne boad The Japanese aren't demanding that anyone eat whale that doesn't want too. Your example is the backwards one Anne.

Scott Gurtel
Scott Gurtel

@Angelena kelly 
"The IUCN Red List labels the common minke whale as Least ConcernThe Antarctic minke whale is listed as Data Deficient.

COSEWIC puts both species in the Not At Risk category. NatureServe lists them as G5 which means the species is secure on global range.

In 2012, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission agreed upon a population estimate of 515,000 for the Antarctic minke stock. The Scientific Committee acknowledged that this estimate is subject to a negative bias because some minke whales would have been outside the surveyable ice edge boundaries."

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

I don't think it has anything to do with ego. It is a simple matter of clout really. The United States has the ability to be a moral example to the rest of the world. If we say that we will halt many of our humanitarian causes in Japan until they agree with the rest of the world and start protecting the Whales instead of contributing to their extinction, Then maybe they will think twice about their "Scientific" endeavors. We have the ability to be a positive influence to the rest of the world, So let's lead by example!

M. Pratt
M. Pratt

@Dwayne LaGrou Unfortunately, not all of "the rest of the world" cares about whales.  There are other countries that are active whaling countries.  

The US has their nose in so many world affairs, and to be honest, I think that real humanitarian crises are more important that one country offending others with whaling.  Between all the internal conflicts going on, whales aren't a global concern.


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