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Japan officially announces intention to start commercial whaling again

Today the Japanese government confirmed its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC – the international body that regulates whale hunting) in order to officially resume commercial whaling.  Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a statement the hunts would start in July 2019.

In 1982, the IWC introduced a ban on all commercial whaling after it became apparent that the numbers of whales being killed were unsustainable and jeopardized whale populations. But Japan went on to utilise a loophole in the regulations and continued to hunt whales for what it called research purposes, despite the fact that most of the meat from these hunts ends up on commercial sale and that little scientific value comes from them.

Japan´s decision was no doubt triggered by its failure to bring down the commercial whaling ban at the September meeting of the IWC.  Just a few weeks later their continued trade in endangered sei whales was found to be illegal by the Convention on Trade in endangered species (CITES). 

The government now aims to resume commercial whaling in Japan’s territorial waters and in its exclusive economic zone.

‘This is devastating news for the whales,’ comments Astrid Fuchs, programme lead at WDC. ‘The moratorium on commercial whaling is one of the biggest achievements of modern conservation. By resuming whaling outside IWC oversight Japan sets a dangerous example. Many whale species are still struggling to recover from the effects of the mass slaughter that was industrial whaling in the 20th century. All whale populations are already under threat from issues like climate change, pollution, entanglement and habitat degradation. The last thing they need is a resumption of large scale whaling. With this move Japan might destroy all the progress that has been made internationally in order to protect and conserve the great whale species.”

According to Japan the whalers will target minke, sei and Bryde´s whales. It is not clear how many whales of each species they intend to take. Humans have inflicted enormous damage to the planet including culling millions of whales and wiping out up to 90% of some populations. Yet few people, let alone governments, are aware that recovering whale populations can help fight the damage we cause.

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