Japan has finally confirmed it will commence whaling in the Antarctic this summer, despite the weight of court decisions and scientific opinion against it.
The Japanese government’s confirmation of its plan to begin killing nearly 4000 minke whales over 12 years came in letters to the International Whaling Commission published on Saturday.
This follows months of wrangling over Japan’s new “scientific research” plan, after the previous program was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in a case brought by Australia.
Since then, Japan has faced trouble trying to fit the new plan, called NEWREP-A, within the terms of the international court’s ruling.
A special panel of International Whaling Commission experts said in January that Japan had failed to demonstrate the need for killing whales in order to achieve the plan’s objectives.
The plan also failed to gain the support of the commission’s full scientific committee in May.
Japan’s IWC commissioner, Joji Morishita, said in a letter published by the IWC that his government had “sincerely taken into account” recommendations of the scientific committee.
“As a result of such additional works … the proponent reached to a conclusion that it does not require any substantial changes to the contents of NEWREP-A,” Mr Morishita said.
“The government of Japan therefore made a decision to start NEWREP-A from this austral summer.”
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Details of the plan provided to the IWC said that after serious scientific consideration, it has been concluded that the age of whales could only be obtained through “lethal sampling”.
The Japanese government has also moved swiftly to fence itself off from further action in the International Court.
Last month Japan advised United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in a special declaration, that it will take a sweeping exception to the court’s jurisdiction.
It said the court’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”.
In a separate action, the Federal Court this month fined the Japanese government-funded whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, $A1 million for contempt of court, over whaling in the Australian Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. The whaling company has refused to recognise the action.
Under the new plan, the area that the whalers will hunt minke whales in stretches around most of the Antarctic continent, from east of the Ross Sea to the South Atlantic.
The government’s Institute of Cetacean Research refused to detail the whaling grounds for security reasons, “to avoid violent sabotage activities by anti-whaling groups”.
However the anti-whaling activists of Sea Shepherd said they would not be chasing the whaling fleet this summer, with two of their ships in drydock, and a third, the Melbourne-based Steve Irwin, hunting illegal Antarctic fishers.
With the whaling fleet expected to leave Japan in days, the Australian Marine Conservation Society urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to stand up against Japan over the decision to resume hunting.
“Australia was courageous enough to stand up to Japan in the international courts, urged on by the Australian people,” said AMCS director Darren Kindleysides.
“Once again, the Australian government must step up and challenge the Japanese government’s illegal whaling.”
On Saturday, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Australia strongly opposed Japan’s decision.
“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” he said.
Mr Hunt said Australia is “working with other international scientists at the forefront of developing and applying modern non-lethal methods” of cetacean research.
Mr Turnbull recently told Fairfax Media in Hobart: “Our position is standard, that we … strongly encourage Japan to cease its whaling operations in any time, in any season, in any year.”