Japan intends to keep killing whales in the Antarctic, notwithstanding an uproar from influential conservation groups and an international court ruling.
The chief Japanese negotiator for whaling decisions, Joji Morishita, told reporters on Monday that the country would send its ships to the Southern Ocean during the whaling season in the Antarctic summer. The announcement comes just a few days after Morishita attended a scientific committee meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that failed to reach a consensus regarding Japan's whaling practices and decided to wait for further analyses.
Morishita dismissed the IWC's scientific committee's recommendation on Monday, calling the IWC a "divided organization."
"Because of this division, even the scientific committee is always having difficulty in coming up with some kind of a conclusion," Morishita said, according to AFP.
He argued that the international debate on whaling has moved from science into politics, and that he found the logic behind killing one animal instead of another "strange," the AFP reported.
"If you keep on like this, I worry that a country which has international political power could impose its standards and ethics on others," he said, calling it "environmental imperialism."
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While commercial whaling has been banned internationally since 1986, countries are allowed to issue special permits when it is done for scientific reasons — a justification that Japan has used to undertake whaling activities. However, in 2010 and 2012, the governments of Australia and New Zealand filed cases against Japan in the International Court of Justice, alleging that Japan's whaling program violated the ban.
Last March, the court agreed to bring a halt to much of Japan's whaling operations in the Antarctic, saying the killings were not for research reasons but commercial purposes.
The court orders prompted Japan to submit a new plan for whaling to the IWC last September, saying it was done for scientific research and thus complied with court recommendations. That proposal, which included a plan to kill 4000 minke whales over the next twelve years, was rejected by the IWC in April. The commission said Japan had not been able to provide conclusive evidence that the killing was for scientific purposes.
While the IWC has considerable clout, it does not have the authority to stop any country from hunting whales.
"The rhetoric from Japan's bureaucrats is consistent. There has never been any question about the commitment of those government officials to continue this senseless slaughter in the Southern Ocean," Patrick Ramage, director of the whale program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told VICE News.
Ramage brushed off Morishita's allegation of "environmental imperialism."
"The Japanese have insisted on the scientific legitimacy of the whaling practice for decades, and now that it is unmasked, it is a desperate search for any argument to justify the killing of these highly migratory marine mammals," he said.
Minke whales, the kind that Japan proposes to kill, are curious animals that have even been known to approach ships and swimmers. While they are found in all the oceans ranging from sub-tropical to polar, the Antarctic is their feeding ground. They are about 8 meters long and weigh around 10 tons on an average.
Japan has maintained that killing the whales is the only way to gather data on their diet and population. But experts on the scientific committee proposed non-fatal methods such as collecting and analyzing fecal or tissue samples.
A fallout with the international community over killing whales might not be coming at the right time for Japan, which is seeking a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. Disregarding the International Court of Justice — a key institution within the UN — over whale hunting can prove to be a "needless irritant in international affairs," IFAW's Ramage said.
"We refuse to believe that Japan is incapable of transitioning into the modern era as so many other countries have done in moving to a different relationship with whales in the twenty-first century, namely, watching them instead of killing them," he said.
Follow Esha Dey on Twitter: @deyesha