The main countries that still hunt Whales are Japan, Norway, Iceland and Russia – defying an international ban on whaling that has been in effect since 1986. In 1982 the IWC decided that there should be a pause in commercial whaling on all stocks from the 1985/1986 season onwards. This pause is often referred to as the commercial whaling moratorium, and it is still in place today.
The IWC has at present designated two whale sanctuaries.
The Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary was established in 1979 after being proposed by the Seychelles, partly in order to protect whales in their breeding grounds.
The other area designated by the IWC as a whale sanctuary is the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, an area of 50 million square kilometres surrounding the continent of Antarctica. It was established in 1994 with 23 countries supporting the agreement and Japan opposing. Its status is reviewed and open to change by the IWC every 10 years. During the 2004 meeting a proposal was made by Japan to remove the sanctuary, but it failed to reach the 75% majority required (it received 25 votes in favour and 30 votes against with two abstentions).
Repeated proposals at the IWC for a South Atlantic Sanctuary and a South Pacific Sanctuary have never reached the 75% majority needed to pass.
In March 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s Antarctic whaling program was “unscientific” and ordered it to stop. Whilst Japan is a member of the IWC, it carries out whaling under a loophole in the IWC charter permitting whaling for the purposes of scientific research. The case was the culmination of a four-year battle by the Australian government, which argued that Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) used scientific research as a front for commercial whaling.
For more information on the IWC please go to iwc.int/commercial
The Japan Times reported that Japan will aim to resume whaling in 2015 with a newly-reduced catch limit. The country will also seek acceptance of another its yearly hunt in the Northwestern Pacific. Japan is concerned that a limit on whaling could set a precedent for its far more vital commercial fishing industry. Blue-fin tuna, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, are highly endangered as well.
Resuming Antarctic whaling would be in defiance of the March ruling by the International Court of Justice, which said that Japan failed to justify the large number of minke whales it kills in the Antarctic. The decision stated:
“The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales … are not for purposes of scientific research.” The ruling was considered a major victory for conservationists, though it was somewhat tainted when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the country had no intentions to stop whaling.
Japan’s annual quota is around 850 minke whales and up to 50 endangered fin whales alone. These are captured during its Antarctic “research” hunts, known as JARPA II. Japan has killed 3,600 Minke whales since 2005. It’s research is supposed to be concerning sustainable commercial whaling, which it claims it needs to kill whales to find out. Source: www.thedodo.com.
Japan could choose to reject the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling, along with Norway and Iceland, or leave altogether:
Sea Shepherd‘s anti-whaling campaigns have been protecting whales against whalers since 2009. “[Sea Shepherd] ships will be prepared and ready to return if they return,” Captain Watson said. “And if they don’t return, then we’ll be able to refocus our efforts against Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese whaling.”
This year marks Norway’s deadliest whaling season since the industry began ignoring the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban. In a 2013 statement, the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries says the IWC “has become an exclusively conservationist organization that does not base its decisions on scientific principles,” and Norway “has formally reserved the right to disregard” the IWC’s zero-catch quota for minke whales.
The Icelandic government, which still conducts a yearly whaling hunt, publicly defended its catch limits as “sustainable” despite serious protests against whaling conducted this year. This claim of “sustainability” seems fishy when according to Iceland’s own data, over half of the whales it expects to harvest are endangered.
Undercurrent News reports that Iceland’s catch limits for the 2014 and 2015 seasons are set at 229 common minke whales and 154 fin whales. While minke whales are listed by the IUCN as “Least Concern,” fin whales are listed as “Endangered,” due to years of whaling and major mortality from ship collisions.