The Japanese whaling fleet typically departs in the first half of November, taking around three to four weeks to reach its destination and returning home in April the following year. However, this year’s delayed departure to early December has sparked speculation that the whale hunt may be curtailed.It’sa move likely to be welcomed by the Australian and New Zealand governments, which have condemned Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary surrounding Antarctica. The two countries have strongly backed the 50 million kilometre square sanctuary, which was established at the IWC in 1994 despite Japan’s opposition.
‘The Australian and New Zealand governments have made it clear that they want to eliminate all whaling from the Southern Ocean,’ Inwood says. ‘They maintain a NIMBY attitude—not in my backyard—and this explains to some extent those nations’ focus on Japan’s research programmes.’
He added, ‘Anti-whaling NGOs and others blatantly mislead the public with statements that Japan’s research is against the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.The fact is that the sanctuary applies only to commercial whaling. Activities undertaken through Article VIII of the ICRW, which allows for the issuance of permits for research whaling, are exempt from all other aspects of the Convention.’
Japan has taken more than 12,000 whales under its research whaling programme since 1986, when a moratorium on commercial whaling was enacted by the IWC. While the commercial industry was estimated at $100 million a year in 1986, in recent years sales have dropped below $50 million and the Japanese industry, which generates around 2000 jobs, was estimated at needing an annual subsidy of $12 million in 2008/09 just to break even.
However, Japan’s whaling outside its waters has incurred the wrath of environmental groups along with Western allies.
Australia has long threatened legal action against Japan, having dispatched Australian Customs ship Oceanic Viking to Antarctic waters in 2007/08 to collect evidence as part of its proposed case. The frustration of the government of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with the failure of diplomacy was underscored in May 2010, when it finally followed through on its pledge by initiating legal action at the ICJ against Japan’s research whaling.
‘We want to see an end to whales being killed in the name of science in the Southern Ocean, ’then Australian environment minister Peter Garrett said in announcing the action, a move described by a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman as ‘regrettable.’
While doubting the effectiveness of the legal move, the University of Adelaide’s Joel Rathus says the reasons for Australia’s opposition to whaling in what it considered to be ‘our waters’ were obvious.
‘It can hardly be described as traditional fishing or research whaling if you’re willing to get a fleet of commercial boats and travel halfway around the planet to take these things—it’s a very deliberate act of coming here and taking whales from a sanctuary,’ he says.
Temple University Japan professor Jeff Kingston describes the practice as a diplomatic ‘own goal’ by Japan and a black mark on its green credentials internationally.
‘There really is no other policy that draws such universal condemnation as Japan’s whaling policy,’ he says. ‘The number of people in Japan that benefit from whaling is minimal, the economic importance of whaling is minimal and whale meat constitutes less than one percent of the Japanese protein intake.