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Will Japan ever stop hunting whales?

A Baird's Beaked whale being butchered at the port of Wada in Minamiboso, southeast of Tokyo
A Baird's Beaked whale being butchered at the port of Wada in Minamiboso, southeast of Tokyo Reuters/Toru Hanai

Japan has pulled out of the International Whaling Commission, a move that the French foreign ministry has warned is a “bad sign” for international cooperation. Though whale advocates say Japan will commercially hunt whales in its own territorial waters, the country's whale-hunting expeditions to the Antarctic will cease.


"This ends the hypocrisy of scientific research,” Lamy Essemlaly, president of the French branch of Sea Shepherd, a conservation organisation, told RFI.

Essemlaly is referring to a part of the international ban on whaling that allows some hunting for scientific research – a loophole that Japan has been using to whale in Antarctic waters.

"Japan has never been interested in science, it has always been doing this commercially," added Essemlaly. "So at least now it’s clearer."


Japan had angered Australia and New Zealand by whaling in Antarctic waters. Their decision to stop is a good thing, says Essemlaly

"Japan is already whaling in its own territorial waters, so this will not change much," she said.

For years Japan has been threatening to pull out of the Whaling Commission (IWC), which has banned commercial whaling since 1986. Japan will remain in the IWC with observer status.

A bad message to the world

The French foreign ministry, in a statement, warned that the move sends a bad message to the world, where international cooperation is “crucial to save biodiversity”.

Though it added that the main threat to whales do not come from whaling, but from the animals getting caught in fishing nets, or from boating accidents, pollution and plastics in the sea.

These threats can only be addressed through international cooperation.

A Japanese tradition

Whaling off Japan’s coasts will continue, focusing mainly on minkes, the smallest of the great whales, which are not considered endangered.

The industry continues more as a matter of principle than anything else, as very few people in Japan actually eat whale meat, and whale products are banned in most cosmetics worldwide.

“It’s a bunch of very limited people who try to keep up this tradition for individual interests,” says Essemlaly. “[Whaling] goes against economic, ethical and ecological sense. I don’t think they will find any way to make it economically viable.”

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