Despite the international ban that took hold in 1986 and years of ensuing controversy over its "scientific" hunting, prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe has sparked outrage across the world by announcing his intent to restart the nation's commercial whaling industry.
"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 a parliamentary commission on Monday. "To that end, I will step up efforts further to get understanding from the international community."
Since the international ban, governed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), went into effect nearly three decades ago, Japan has been allowed to hunt select whale species within its territorial waters and conduct what are categorized as "research" whaling hunts in international waters, done mostly in the South Pacific and Southern Ocean.
Abe's comments to revitalize a true return to industrial whaling, however, was met with immediate condemnation by conservationists and governments.
Bunny McDiarmid, director of Greenpeace in New Zealand, called Abe's announcement "rubbish" and any plans to resume a commercial whaling industry as "senseless."
"Any comments he's making around the need for the resumption of commercial whaling so that they can study whales is rubbish," McDiarmid told the NZ Newswire. "It's a pretty senseless thing to do. There's hardly anyone in Japan that eats whale meat now, and whaling is losing money."
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High-level officials from Australia and New Zealand, both countries that have contended with Japan's whaling practices over the years, also expressed dismay.
Murray McCully, New Zealand's foreign minister, said though it was unclear exactly what Abe has in mind, "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."
And Greg Hunt, Australia's environment minister, said he believed "all parties should respect" the international ban, including Japan.
In his remarks, Abe tried to claim that whaling is an important part of Japanese heritage, but McDiarmid flatly rejected that argument.
"Commercial Antarctic whaling operations are not a longstanding part of Japanese culture at all," she said. "I think he's being a little disingenuous by lumping those two aspects of Japanese whaling operations into one."