Officially, commercial whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Committee (IWC) since 1986. However, the IWC—originally set up to monitor and regulate whale stocks—is essentially made up of volunteer member nations such as Australia, the United States and Japan. This makes its power and authority over commercial whaling limited, to say the least. And Japan seems to be taking full advantage.
Exploiting a Loophole
The past few years have seen Japanese whale farming splashed across the media, as Japan experiences significant scrutiny from anti-whaling nations and conservationists for exploiting a clause in the IWC that allows whale farming in the Southern Ocean for “scientific” purposes, with any resulting whale meat “to be disposed of in any way, including selling it commercially.”
While Japan asserts that it captures whales for scientific research only, critics claim that the underlying motive of the Japanese is to provide for their whale-meat industry. Additionally, Japan has decided to develop a whale farm in a city outside of Tokyo to amuse tourists, study breeding behaviour in the whales and, you guessed it, “ultimately, to supply restaurants with meat.”
Japan Should Cease and Desist
Critics of Japan's whaling practices have argued that Japan should stop even its ostensibly scientific whaling because:
- Whales are endangered and need to be protected.
- Non-lethal methods of research can be used instead to study the whales.
- Whales in captivity do not exhibit natural breeding habits or other characteristics that make them worth studying in confined spaces.
- Whale meat is filled with mercury that can make people sick.
Japan Cries Racism
Japan argues that the hunting of whales is a cultural practice that non-whaling countries do not understand and that Japan is experiencing racism, as it is being singled out more so than countries such as Norway and Iceland that both commercially hunt whales. Japan additionally claims that it hunts only in the Southern Ocean and only Minke whales, a type of non-endangered small whale in amounts that do not affect the animals’ population.
Challenge and Negotiation
Australia has recently challenged Japanese whaling practices and methods in an international court. Additionally, intense negotiations between anti-whaling and pro-whaling nations (part of the IWC) are underway to determine the future of whaling in the Southern Ocean.
So far, negotiations are rife with conflict. Japan feels it does not need to concede what it considers its right to do scientific research under regulations enacted by the IWC. And environmentalists are determined not to allow any loosening of requirements that protect whales in the Southern Ocean.
A Potential Resolution
Utimately, perhaps some compromise can be reached—with anti-whaling activists and nations coming to terms with the cultural and economic reasons behind Japan’s whaling practices and allowing it to continue limited whaling operations, with Japan agreeing to greatly reduce its catch. That’s certainly preferable to the present situation, which risks undermining the authority of the IWC and attracting other (non-IWC member) countries that may be eager to take the current confusion as an opportunity to join Japan and begin commercial whaling in the guise of scientific research.
Mercury in Japan's Whale Meat - Food Safety
Whaling in Japan
BBC: Decision Time for Whale Conservation