Call for International Whaling Commission to Stop Japan's Proposal


Published Aug 28, 2018 7:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ahead of the September 4 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Animal Welfare Institute have released a new report, Commercial Whaling: Unsustainable, Inhumane, Unnecessary, which highlights continued commercial whaling by Iceland, Japan and Norway and makes the case against any weakening of the moratorium on whaling.

Japan is proposing a package of measures at an IWC meeting next month that would effectively lift the global ban on for-profit whaling. The nation's so-called “IWC Reform Proposal” calls for the formation of a “Sustainable Whaling Committee” to set catch quotas, as well as the convening of a diplomatic conference to amend the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The change would lower the proportion of votes required to set catch quotas from three-quarters of the IWC membership to a simple majority.

“If Japan gets its way, it would be a massive victory for those rogue whalers who have time and again defied the international ban on commercial whaling and an absolute disaster for the world’s whales,” said Clare Perry, Environmental Investigation Agency’s Ocean Campaigns leader.

“According to our research, Japan and fellow commercial whaling countries Iceland and Norway have collectively killed at least 38,539 great whales since the 1986 ban was put in place. Many whale species have not yet recovered from massive over-hunting in the past, and they are also facing a wide array of mounting existential threats ranging from climate change to marine pollution by chemicals, plastics and noise.”

Japan has killed more than 22,000 whales in the Antarctic and North Pacific as part of its “scientific” whaling program, selling the whale meat purportedly taken for “research.” In March 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s Antarctic hunt had no scientific basis. Japan, however, has continued to kill whales under the guise of scientific research and faced intense public backlash in May after reporting that its whaling fleet had killed 122 pregnant whales during its annual hunt in the Southern Ocean last winter.

Norway continues commercial whaling under an objection lodged to the 1986 IWC moratorium, while Iceland has a disputed reservation to the moratorium, which it has used to justify commercial catch quotas since 2006.

“We’re only just beginning to grasp the vital role whales play in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Weakening the ban now would be a fatal mistake, and would open the doors to increased commercial whaling around the world. This cruel and unnecessary industry is a relic of the past that has no place in modern society.

“All other contracting governments to the IWC must step up to vigorously defend the moratorium from this new assault by Japan and its allies,” she said.

Inhumane Hunts (excerpt from Commercial Whaling: Unsustainable, Inhumane, Unnecessary

The IWC defines the humane killing of a whale as “causing its death without pain, stress or distress
perceptible to the animal. That is the ideal. Any humane killing technique aims first to render an animal
insensitive to pain as swiftly as is technically possible.” Under the auspices of the Whale Killing Methods and Welfare Issues Working Group, the IWC seeks to ensure that hunts are as humane as possible for whales.

However, despite the passage of more than 20 years since the IWC defined humane killing, there remain significant welfare concerns regarding the methods of all three countries engaged in whaling for commercial purposes.

Iceland has collected only minimal data on time to death (TTD) rates for minke whales killed in its commercial operations and has been unable to provide a credible answer to the question of how long its whalers take to kill a minke whale. Although TTD data collected from 50 of the 137 fin whales killed in 2014 claimed that 42 of them died “instantly” (defined by the IWC as within 10 seconds of being shot), the remaining eight whales had to be shot a second time and their median TTD was eight
minutes. One whale took 15 minutes to die.

There is no mandatory reporting of TTD or instantaneous death rate (IDR) in the Norwegian hunt. However, Norway recently collected TTD data for 271 minke whales, including 180 whales in 2011 and 91 in 2012. The whales were killed with 50mm and 60mm harpoon guns and the penthrite grenade. Rifles were used as backup kill weapons. Although the fisheries inspectors collecting this data were neither veterinarians nor biologists, the data collected reported instantaneous deaths for 222
whales (82 per cent) with an average TTD of one minute. The median TTD for the 49 whales not registered as instantaneous deaths was six minutes. One whale had to be shot twice, taking 20-25 minutes to die.

Japan’s special permit hunts currently target Antarctic and common minke whales and sei whales, the third largest whale species. Japan has not submitted welfare data to the IWC since 2006 but provides reports to the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO). According to data for 2009-15 presented at a NAMMCO workshop on killing methods in 2015, sei whales take an average of three minutes to die and only 51 percent die instantaneously.

The instantaneous death rate in Japan’s minke whale hunts (51 percent in the offshore North Pacific hunt, 44 per cent in the coastal North Pacific hunt and 59.6 percent in Antarctica) is substantially lower than comparable hunts in Norway and Iceland. Minke whales taken in the offshore North Pacific hunt take an average of two minutes to die while those in the coastal hunt take over five minutes. Antarctic minkes take an average of 1.8 minutes to die.

Experts at the NAMMCO workshop raised concern that Japan still uses a lance – a non-exploding (‘cold’) harpoon – as a secondary killing method for coastal minke whales and for sei whales if the first harpoon does not kill the whale. Use of the cold harpoon for commercial whaling has been prohibited by the IWC since 1980 and Japan does not hold an objection to this provision in respect of sei whales. NAMMCO recommended in 2015 that Japan develop and use a more effective back-up killing method.