Wädenswil, Switzerland, 1st July 2019: Five whaling ships set sail today and the first minke whale has already been harpooned. It is the beginning of the first commercial whaling activities in 33 years since the global moratorium on whaling came into force. The Japanese Fisheries Agency today announced a quota of 227 whales until the end of the year, including 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales. The catch quota was given arbitrarily and is not approved by the expert scientific committee due to Japan’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

In order to avert further criticism, the authorities reiterate that the whaling activities are carried out on the basis of scientific data in territorial waters and in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. “The quotas are set arbitrarily and are not accepted by the IWC. In addition, rare beaked whales are being hunted, which are not even mentioned by the Japanese government in this context. While some whale populations have gradually recovered from earlier decimation, other populations are still at risk. And all whales are threatened by a variety of cumulative threats including by-catch, pollution, ship collisions and climate change. Whaling in the 21st century is neither sustainable nor necessary,” criticises Nicolas Entrup, Senior Ocean Policy Expert at OceanCare. While 88 IWC member countries adhere to the international ban on whaling, with the exception of Norway and Iceland, Japan is isolating itself by resigning from the IWC and ignoring democratic decisions and rules.

With two European IWC Member States, Norway and Iceland, Japan already has role models which have been criticised for setting catch quotas on their own. The Japanese Fisheries Agency today set a quota of 227 whales until the end of the year. That quota includes 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales. At least, the special permit or so called ‘scientific’ whaling programme in the Antarctic comes to an end. Within the IWC, Japan has so far used a loophole that allows whaling for scientific purposes. Most recently, 450 whales were killed under such special permit programmes in 2016 and 513 whales in 2017. With the new commercial whaling activities, the focus is now shifting entirely from the Southern Ocean to the Northern Hemisphere.

Fabienne McLellan, Director of International Relations at OceanCare, adds: “Japan’s commercial whaling claims are not matched by any demand for whale meat in Japan or anywhere else in the world.” Consumption of whale meat in Japan fell by almost 99% between 1962 and 2017, with less than 4,000 tons consumed. “Meanwhile, the government claims that whale meat consumption in Japan will increase if more whale products enter the market. But even these new commercial whaling activities are unlikely to do without governmental subsidies. It seems a desperate attempt to boost an economically unviable business model at the expense of whales,” says McLellan.

Facts and figures:

  • Japan will target baleen whales such as minke, sei and Bryde’s whales. Hunting will take place in coastal waters and in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ, 200 miles).
  • Hunting will be permitted throughout the year until quotas are reached.
  • After leaving the IWC, whalers will no longer be subject to the hunting ban on certain species. Also other species will be targeted by whalers, such as pilot whales and toothed whales such as Baird’s beaked whales. The quota has been set for 227 great whales until the end of the year.
  • Since the commercial whaling ban came into force in 1986, Japan killed more than 17,000 whales for ‘scientific purposes’.
  • This ‘scientific’ whaling (special permit whaling) has yielded hardly any papers published in peer-reviewed journals.
  • In 2014, even the International Court of Justice in The Hague condemned Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic for lack of scientific basis and demanded that Japan discontinues this programme.
  • Japan continues to import thousands of tons of whale meat from Iceland and Norway. The three countries have each submitted a reservation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and are thus not formally bound by the trade ban. For years the whaling nations have been striving to lift the trade ban as well as the whaling moratorium. If this unregulated trade continues to increase, the effectiveness of CITES will be massively impaired.
  • Japan’s commercial whaling desires are not matched by demand for whale meat in Japan or elsewhere in the world.

Media contacts:

Nicolas Entrup, Senior Ocean Policy Expert OceanCare: M: (+43) 660 211 9963, nentrup@oceancare.org

Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations OceanCare: M: (+41) 79 456 77 07, fmclellan@oceancare.org