Japan’s ‘Scientific’ Whaling Program Sucks

Once again, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has attempted to create a South Atlantic sanctuary for whales. And once again, it has been thwarted by a pro-whaling coalition led by Nordic nations and Japan — which, in blatant disregard of the UN’s International Court, continues to slaughter whales by the thousands for bullshit “scientific research” purposes.

A Japanese whaling vessel in the Ross Sea fires its water cannons in response to a close encounter with a New Zealand vessel in February, 2009. Image: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society/Flickr

A proposal to create a new South Atlantic sanctuary for whales, dolphins and porpoises was struck down at an international whaling meeting today, after 38 countries voted for the sanctuary, 24 nations voted against it and two countries abstained. The proposed sanctuary required 75 per cent approval to pass.

This has been happening for years — since 2001, in fact — despite strong consensus among conservation biologists that the 20.7 million square kilometre reserve is exactly what ailing cetacean populations need to recover from the reckless slaughter of the 20th century, during which nearly three million whales were killed by commercial fishermen. The South Atlantic sanctuary would be connected to the Southern Ocean sanctuary, which encompasses the cold, nutrient-rich waters encircling Antarctica that are an important feeding ground for populations of fin, blue, sperm, humpback, sei and minke whales.

Ironically, conservation science is being derailed, at least in part, by blatant pseudo-science. Japan not only opposes the South Atlantic sanctuary on the basis of it interfering with “scientific whaling”, it continues to hunt whales within the Southern Ocean sanctuary, despite legal threats from Australia and New Zealand, and a direct order from the International Court of Justice to lay down its harpoons. In March, Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research slaughtered 333 minke whales, including pregnant females, on a “research” expedition in the Southern Ocean.

At best, killing whales for science makes Japan’s research institutions seem medieval: This simply isn’t something self-respecting, 21st century marine biologists do. And indeed, Japan’s whale-butchering scientists seem woefully underproductive. From 2005 to 2014, 3600 dead minke whales yielded a paltry two peer-reviewed, scientific research papers.

Which brings us to the real reason Japan continues to trot out its science as an excuse to thwart conservation efforts: High demand for whale meat.

As The Guardian notes, the agenda for this year’s IWC meeting also includes a resolution that would require Japan to get its “scientific” quotas approved by an international expert community prior to whaling expeditions. Don’t expect that one to pass, either.

[The Guardian]