Amid ceremony and fanfare, commercial whaling ships left Japanese ports yesterday for the first time in 33 years.
In 1986, with whales on the edge of extinction, members of the International Whaling Commission agreed to a moratorium and, despite increased stress from climate change, many species have recovered. Last September, Japan petitioned to resume a limited commercial hunt, but lost the vote, 41-27. Putting national interest above international obligations, Japan withdrew from the treaty. The required six months notice expired at the end of June.
Of course, Japan never really stopped whaling. The IWC allows exemptions – indigenous peoples can continue subsistence whaling and there was what turned out to be a large loophole that permitted hunts for research. In the name of science, Japanese vessels killed hundreds of whales every year - 333 last year - and most of the meat ended up for sale as food.
Those hunts were conducted in the Southern Ocean, drawing bitter criticism from Australia and regularly harassed by boats from Greenpeace and Sea Shepard. The commercial hunt will take place inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles offshore. The hunt will target Minke, Bryde’s and Sei whales.
Sei whales are still listed as an endangered species.
Japan’s taste for whale meat has steadily dwindled and it now makes up just a tiny fraction of the nations diet. Only about 300 people are directly employed in whaling, but many conservatives argue that the hunt must continue, as a matter of national pride.