Photo by Issei Kato/Reuters
Here's one thing successive Japanese governments seem to agree on: Japan should be able to go out and kill a lot of whales.On Monday, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) rejected Japan's proposal to kill 4,000 whales in the Antarctic over the next 12 years. But the commission has no power to stop Japan from conducting a hunt anyway.A panel convened by the Commission found that Japan did not provide enough evidence for its claim that the hunt was for scientific purposes, one of the few legal exceptions to a worldwide ban on commercial whaling issued in 1986.
"I believe that we'll move forward with the aim of resuming whaling around the end of the year," the commissioner, Joji Morishita said, according to Reuters.
Despite opposition from the IWC, countries are free to issue themselves permits for scientific whaling, and are not obligated to modify their research based on IWC recommendations.Japan exploited that loophole since 1987. But in 2010, and again in 2012, the governments of Australia and New Zealand filed cases with the International Court of Justice, arguing that Japan's justifications for whaling in international waters were invalid and violated the 1986 ban.Last March, the court agreed, bring to a halt much of Japan whaling operations in the Antarctic. But in September, Japan submitted a new plan for whaling to the IWC, saying it complies with the recommendations of the court.Despite the IWC's announcement, Phillip Clapham of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory told VICE News that Japan is likely to move ahead with its whale hunt."Japan doesn't need permission under the convention to do scientific whaling," he said. "They'll get a lot of crap and criticism over how bad this science is and how unnecessary it is. But they don't actually need permission."Related: Seaworld is desperately trying to save its brand
'They'll get a lot of crap and criticism over how bad this science is and how unnecessary it is. But they don't actually need permission.'
Japan has killed approximately 14,000 whales since the moratorium started in 1986, Clapham said.Its proposal targets the Minke whale, the smallest of the baleen whales, which are found in all of the world's oceans but favor the icy waters of the poles. Japan wants to kill up to 3,996 of the whales over the course of the next 12 years, ostensibly to study the age at which females reach sexual maturity.Japan estimates that about 50 females between the age of four and 13 would need to be killed annually. But because it's impossible to tell the sex of a whale before it's harpooned, it estimates the total number of whales killed at 333 per year, including males and females of the wrong age."It's the same old kind of weird science approach to whaling," Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Whale Program, told VICE News. "It's not science, it's just kind of, '101 things to do with a dead whale.'"Japan has long said it needs to hunt whales in order to manage their populations and has claimed that killing whales is important for reducing competition with human fisheries."It's ridiculous," Clapham told VICE News. "There's no real evidence for it."Related: Japan was ordered to stop hunting whales, but no one is eating them anywayIn the 1940s, when the IWC was formed, killing whales was the only way to study their biology, Clapham said. Now, scientists can use techniques like photography and numbering and tagging individual whales in order to monitor whole populations.Researchers can also perform biopsies on living whales, taking a small amount of tissue for DNA analysis, which leaves the whale relatively unscathed. It has the added benefit of allowing scientists track the same whale over its lifetime. Japan used these techniques in the Antarctic this winter and is expected to provide details of its research at the IWC's May meeting."The best science in the world today is not killing whales and cutting them up into little pieces," Ramage told VICE News. "It's studying living whales in the marine environment and how they interact with it."Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro