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Japan resumes commercial whaling

Published: 13th Jul, 2019

Japan recently has resumed commercial whaling after leaving International Whaling Commission last year.


Japan recently has resumed commercial whaling after leaving International Whaling Commission last year.


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Reasons of withdrawal cited by Japan

  • With a moratorium in effect for more than 30 years, populations of endangered whale species will have had plenty of time to regenerate.
  • ‘Fundamental differences’ among members have led the whaling commission to what it calls a dead end.
  • Pressure from local fishermen to restart commercial whaling.
  • Whaling is deeply ingrained in Japanese culinary culture, dating back as far as the earliest historical era of the Jomon Period (10,000-200 B.C.). Whale meat also served as critical sources of protein in the post-war period as the nation grappled with poverty.

Background and Implications

  • Japan has been mulling leaving the whaling commission for some time in the past. It kills an estimated 450 whales annually.
  • Japan had proposed lifting a 32-year whaling ban when the IWC met in Brazil for its annual conference in September 2018. The proposal was rejected and criticised by the environmental organizations.
  • The country officially halted commercial whaling in 1988, complying with the Commission's moratorium.
  • Japan’s withdrawal has put an end to its IWC-sanctioned whaling activity in the Antarctic Ocean, long conducted under the name of “scientific research,” in a practice widely slammed as commercial whaling in disguise.
  • However, even after its exit from the IWC, Japan will continue to attend its meetings as an observer and work toward rectifying what they called the “dysfunction” of the IWC.
  • Japan’s continued involvement with the commission is apparently aimed at fulfilling a condition set under international law for the management of whales.
  • Under the U.N.-designated Convention on the Law of the Sea, member states are obliged to “work through appropriate international organizations” for whaling.
  • International community urged Japan for the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures; rather than resuming commercial whaling.
  • The other two countries that still hunt whales commercially are Norway and Iceland.

International Whaling Commission (IWC)

  • IWC is the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. Currently, it has 89 members.
  • All members are signatories to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. This Convention is the legal framework which established the IWC in 1946.
  • Uncertainty over whale numbers led to the introduction of a ‘moratorium’ on commercial whaling in 1986. This remains in place although the Commission continues to set catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling. 
  • Today, the Commission also works to understand and address a wide range of non-whaling threats to cetaceans including entanglement, ship strike, marine debris, climate change and other environmental concerns.

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