Despite Ban, Japan Aims to Resume Whale Slaughter

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Despite Ban, Japan Aims to Resume Whale Slaughter

New policy will help fisheries skirt International Court of Justice ruling

A minke whale, which Japanese commercial fisheries hunt for sport (Photo: Tom Benson)

Despite an order from the top court of the United Nations to stop all whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, Japan plans to relaunch its slaughtering of minke whales in the area next year, an official told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.

The UN's International Court of Justice in 2013 ordered a temporary halt to Japan's annual whale hunt after concluding that they were part of a commercial enterprise, and not being conducted for scientific research, as the country's whaling fleets had claimed. But the government announced a new policy on Tuesday that would help it evade the ICJ's ruling by purporting a more scientific mission.

Whaling vessels will collect "data necessary to calculate the number of whale catch allowed (once commercial whaling resumes)," and "construct a model of the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem," a Japan Fisheries Agency official told AFP.

"We are thinking that we will only target Antarctic minke whales in the new plan," he said. "Collecting the necessary data requires lethal research, which was acknowledged in the ICJ ruling."

Japan has hunted whales under a loophole in the 1986 global moratorium that allows lethal research on the mammals, but sale of whale meat in restaurants and supermarkets — though legal in Japan — caused many anti-whaling countries to accuse the country of hiding their more nefarious commercial intentions "in the lab coat of science."

According to AFP, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "sparked fury in anti-whaling nations in June when he said he would strengthen efforts towards restarting commercial whaling, emphasising its importance in Japanese culture."

Whaling opponents welcomed and supported ICJ's 2013 ruling. "This is an historic decision which lays to rest, once and for all, the grim travesty of Japan's so-called 'scientific' whaling and exposes it to the world as the blatant falsehood it clearly is," Clare Perry, head of the cetaceans campaign at the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, told the Guardian at the time. "With this ruling, Japan must clearly cease its whaling activities in the Antarctic."

But the Guardian also noted:

Japan, though, had maintained that its annual slaughter of 850 minke whales and up to 50 endangered fin whales every year was necessary to examine the age, health, feeding habits, exposure to toxins and other characteristics of whale populations, with a view to the possible resumption of sustainable commercial whaling.

Officials in Tokyo said the data could not be obtained through non-lethal methods.

The Fisheries Agency will announce the submission of the new hunting program at the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting later this month, and put it forward later in 2014, AFP says.

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