Japan Starts its Whale Hunt Again

Despite an international ruling, the Japanese fleet plans to harvest 333 minke whales

Minke whale
An Antarctic minke whale, the animal Japanese whaling vessels target Paul A. Souders/CORBIS

Last year, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice ordered the Japanese whale hunt to stop. But on December 1, ignoring that demand, a fleet from Japan started a voyage to the Antarctic to hunt minke whales, reports the BBC

After an international ban in 1986, most countries stopped hunting whales for commercial purposes. In the decades leading up to that decision, commercial ships killed about 2.9 million whales. Japan, along with Iceland and Norway, continued some whaling even after the ban by claiming that the whales were killed for research purposes.

Japan is the only country to hunt in international waters. And antiwhaling groups and other countries objected that Japan’s program wasn’t truly for scientific purposes. The international court ruled the same in 2014, reports Nala Rogers for Science

Though Japan’s fleet did set sail in 2014, they didn’t harvest any animals, reports the BBC. But this year, they plan to pull 333 minke whales from the Southern Ocean, a third of their previous average yearly haul, reports Rachel Feltman for The Washington Post.

Critics object that the minke whales end up on plates, not in research. "There is no need to kill whales in the name of research," Australia’s environmental minister, Greg Hunt says in a statement. "Non-lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans."

This past June, 44 scientists from the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee published a statement further suggesting that the need to lethal sampling hasn’t been adequately demonstrated, reports Dennis Normile for Science

Yet Japanese officials claim that minke whales are abundant enough to justify harvest. The hunt will include examination of the minke whales stomach contents and age of sexual maturity to help set sustainable minke quotas if commercial fishing should resume, reports Virginia Morell for Science.

Whale hunts have been historically important to Japanese culture, but modern Japanese may be loosing their taste for the meat. So even if the hunt continues this year, these international pressures and changing preferences might put an end to it soon. 

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