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Japan and its Restart of Commercial Whaling

The whole world was taken by shock when Japan claimed it would be restarting commercial whaling. This allows whales to be hunted for usable products like meat, oil and blubber. Commercial whaling was banned after some in the species were almost driven to extinction. 

Japan has claimed its desire to restart commercial whaling is because eating whale meat is part of the country’s culture. This is hardly a valid reason as there is no longer a demand for whale meat, with only up to 0.1% of it being sold in Japan. Even where meat is sold, it is a declining industry and restarting whaling does not make economic sense. 

The government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, announced that commercial whaling would be restricted to Japanese territorial waters and economic zones. This may seem like a relief because it means Japan will stop hunting in Antarctic waters and the southern hemisphere, but it still puts numerous whales in danger. Whales have no sense of national boundaries, and most species migrate in and out of different countries’ waters. This means while one country might not hunt them, another, in different national waters might. 

Suga also blamed their withdrawal on what he portrayed as an uncompromising attitude on the part of anti-whaling countries. 

Japan has said that it will be withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in July. The IWC was set up in 1946 “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks”. They agreed to a moratorium on whaling to allow stocks to recover. Pro-whaling nations suspected the moratorium to be temporary, until consensus could be reached on sustainable catch quotas. Much to their dismay, it continued for longer than any of them predicted. 

Even before Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC, it had been hunting whales for 30 years at least. It used an exception granted from the IWC ban that allows the killing of mammals for scientific research. This simply means that Japan could use whales for scientific studies and then the meat could be sold for consumption. This loophole which Japan has been using may have been the government’s final attempt at keeping the whaling industry alive. 

Despite stating above that Japan’s withdrawal was a shock, on the contrary, it was quite expected. Japan has repeatedly tried to overturn the IWC’s whaling ban and has often threatened to leave. To the relief of conservationists, Japan had never succeeded in overturning any bans. Japan’s final attempt to do so came at the IWC summit in Brazil. Japan offered a package of measurements, including setting up a Sustainable Whaling Committee and arguing that stocks of certain species were now sufficient to support renewed hunting. 

The proposal was not voted in Japan’s favour- with strong opposition from Australia, the United States of America and the European Union. Since this event, there have been predictions that Japan would withdraw from the IWC.


Japan’s withdrawal will come into effect as of July 2019. There have been no antagonistic reactions to this recent news, all countries seem to agree that Japan is wrong to leave the IWC. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, was “extremely disappointed” and Michael Gove, a British politician, stated that “the UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling”.  It is obvious that most countries are and will continue to strongly criticise Japan’s restarting of commercial whaling. 

Even some Japanese citizens are in opposition to whaling. This is a quote from a Japanese woman: “In the past, whaling was a part of Japanese culture, but, because of reasons such as the reduced whale populations, I believe the situation has changed in the modern era, and so restrictions are needed.”

Much to everyone’s disappointment, it seems Japan will be joining Iceland and Norway in defying the IWC’s moratorium. 

Jiya Chathley


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