WASHINGTON, January 19, 2016 — Today is a dark day for the minke whale. Japan’s whaling fleet sails from Tokyo for a three-month hunt for the whales. The hunt targets the smaller minke whales for their meat, which is said to be of better flavor and texture than that of larger whales, in particular the Sei Whale, which have been over harvested.
The Antarctic minke is among the smallest of the baleen whales and may live from 20 up to 43 years of age. Some estimate that the Minke might live as many as 50 years or more. Their only physical threats are Orcas (killer whales) and man.
Declining demand for whale meat in Japan and protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have contributed to the lower catches, but the Japanese government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain whaling operations.
The International Whaling Commission banned whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales under an exemption for research, though the meat from the kills is commercially sold.
In March 2014, the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Japan to stop whaling in Antarctica. It ruled that the country’s ploy of scientific whaling is not compatible with international law. Japan was immediately ordered to end its current Antarctic whaling program.
In November 2015 Japan announced that it would use a loophole in the International Whaling Commission law that allows whaling for “scientific research”.
The announcement of the hunt was made on Monday, when Japan submitted its plans for the hunt. This is despite the Whaling Commission ruling that it was “not convinced whales needed to killed for research on whale stock management and conservation” as claimed.
The Japanese government insists that whales must be killed for research reasons, despite opponents’ claims that the whales need not be killed to collect that information.
The expedition will be the first since the International Court of Justice ruled last year that the hunts were not truly scientific. Japan claims that lethal sampling—killing the whales—is necessary to obtain data on the maturing ages of the whales.
The hunt is about one-third of what Japanese whalers used to kill; they will catch and kill up to 333 minke whales each year for the next 12-years.
The Australian government instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the Government of Japan alleging,
“Japan’s continued pursuit of a large scale programme of whaling under the Second Phase of its Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic (“JARPA II”) [is] in breach of obligations assumed by Japan under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (“ICRW”), as well as its other international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and marine environment”.
Australian Attorney General George Brandis told the Senate that Australia was “very disappointed” by the resumption of whaling and had taken the matter up at “the highest levels” in a bid to get Japan to change its mind.
Australia may send a Customs and Border Protection Service patrol boat to shadow the whale kill if diplomacy fails, Brandis said.
While the purpose of the shadow boat was not defined, it would likely try to gather evidence of illegal conduct.