Japan to resume whaling in Antarctica's waters

Japanese whaling ships will return to Antarctica’s waters by March next year, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determining their activities to be in breech of international law.

Minke whale off the coast of Iceland.

Minke whale off the coast of Iceland. Image by Andrea Schaffer / CC BY 2.0

The Japanese Fisheries Agency has notified the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that it will resume whaling in 2016, but will cut their annual quota of minke whales by two-thirds, from 1000 to 333.

The UK and Australian governments have firmly condemned the announcement. "We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called 'scientific research'," Australian environment minister Greg Hunt stated.

While the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) released a statement saying, "We are deeply disappointed with Japan's decision to restart whaling in the Southern Ocean. This undermines the global ban on commercial whaling which the UK strongly supports."

Nisshin Maru whaling vessel hauls minke whale up it's slipway.

Nisshin Maru whaling vessel hauls minke whale up it's slipway. Image by John / CC BY-SA 2.0

Japan ceased whaling in 2014, after their programme was found to be in breech of international law by the ICJ. In its judgement the court stated there was little evidence Japan’s whaling programme was scientific, ordering Japan to withdraw all permits and licenses for whaling in the Antarctic and refrain from issuing any new ones. The case was brought before the court by the Australian government, which has long opposed Japan’s activities in Antarctic waters.

In response to the court’s ruling Japan created a new whaling plan called NEWREP-A. Though designed to meet the terms set by the ICJ, the nation has struggled to have the new plan recognised as legitimate by international bodies. In January 2015 a special panel of International Whaling Commission (IWC) experts said NEWREP-A failed to demonstrate the need for killing whales in order to achieve the new plan's objectives. It failed again in its second attempt in May.

In response, Japan has announced it will recommence its whaling programme without the support of the IWC or ICJ. In a special declaration last month, Japan advised United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that the ICJ's jurisdiction does not apply to “any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea".

It is possible the whaling ships will depart Japan as early as the end of December.

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