‘Scientific whaling’ decision – experts respond

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has voted in favour of a resolution restricting Japan’s scientific whaling program, but a representative of the country says they will proceed anyway.

File:Japan Factory Ship Nisshin Maru Whaling Mother and Calf.jpg
Credit: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

At a four day meeting in Slovenia, the commission voted in favour of a resolution put forward by New Zealand to impose limits on future scientific whaling permits, requiring non-lethal alternatives to be considered for any approved scientific research on whales.

The resolution was voted through with 35 countries for and 20 against, with five abstentions.

Previously Australia, with the support of New Zealand, took Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), claiming their whaling program was not scientific and therefore illegal. In March, the ICJ ruled that the program was not scientific. These rulings were submitted alongside the resolution to the IWC.

Following the commission’s vote yesterday, Japan announced that it will be proceeding with a new programme, starting in 2015, without the commission’s approval.

“We will be providing and submitting a new research plan in the Antarctic Ocean so that we implement research activities starting from 2015,” said Joji Morishita, head of Japan’s delegation, speaking to the Associated Press. “And all these activities are perfectly in accordance with international law, scientific basis as well as the ICJ judgment.”

“We are disappointed with their announcement,” Gerard Van Bohemen, the leader of the New Zealand delegation told the Guardian. “We thought it important that there was a strong statement agreed about the interpretation and application of the court’s decision but in the end it wasn’t possible to reach consensus on that.”

You can read more about the decision in national and international coverage:

Radio New Zealand: Whaling meeting puts pressure on Japan
The Guardian: Japan defies IWC ruling on ‘scientific whaling’
Epoch times (Associated Press): International Whaling Commission Votes Against Japan’s Hunt
Yahoo News: Japan Vows to Continue Scientific Whaling Despite IWC Vote for Tighter Sanctions
Sydney Morning Herald: Japan rejects Australian, NZ, attempt to rein in whale hunt
National Geographic: Japan to Resume Whaling Next Year, Defying International Whaling Commission
ABC Radio: Japan announces plan to restart whaling in Southern Ocean

The SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476; smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz):

Dr Rochelle Constantine, Director, Joint Graduate School in Coastal and Marine Science, University of Auckland, comments:

“It is disappointing but not surprising that Japan has announced its intention to resume lethal whale research activities in the Southern Ocean and to not agree with a proposal to evaluate their research programme by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientific committee.

“Whilst the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling was clear about the short-comings of the JARPAII research programme, the Japanese government has chosen to interpret the ICJ findings in a different way.

“Japanese whale scientists have yet to provide any compelling evidence that we need to kill whales to answer questions about, amongst other things, whale stock structure, diet, age, reproductive biology and role in ecosystem functioning.

“Collaborative research carried out largely by scientists as part of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership (SORP, consisting of 10 IWC member nations including New Zealand) has clearly shown that you can answer all these questions using non-lethal methods such as telemetry, tissue biopsies, acoustics, photo-identification and laboratory analyses of these samples. Scientists working on SORP research projects have strongly encouraged Japan to use non-lethal methods.

“The recent failure of IWC members to reach consensus on the New Zealand resolution for the IWC scientific committee to evaluate Japan’s future Southern Ocean whale research is a further blow to the promotion of non-lethal research. We await with some interest Japan’s proposed 2014-2015 lethal whale research that we know will result in the needless deaths of whales under a thin disguise of research.”

Joanna Mossop, Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“In March this year, the International Court of Justice found that Japan was not acting consistently with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling when it caught whales under its special permit scheme for scientific research.  The Court found that a range of features of the Japanese programme (known as JARPA II) cast doubt on whether the programme was reasonable in light of its objectives.  These include the scale of the lethal harvesting and problems with the design and implementation of the scientific research. Therefore, JARPA II did not meet the requirements of Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

“It is important to note what the Court did not do.  It did not find that lethal catches of whales in pursuance of scientific research was prohibited.  It did not prevent Japan from revising its scientific programme in the future to ensure that the design of the programme was more consistent with its objectives.  Although Japan indicated that it would halt its Southern Ocean whaling programme for a year to respond to the Court’s criticisms, it made it clear that it was still committed to whaling under the scientific permit exception in the future.

“Although the majority of the International Whaling Commission have voted for a resolution which requires states to submit their plans for scientific permit whaling to the Scientific Committee of the IWC and to wait for the IWC to respond to the Scientific Committee report, this is not binding on Japan. Resolutions cannot bind members of the IWC – they are hortatory only. Japan has stated that it does not agree that the measures in the Resolutions are consistent with the ICJ decision and will not comply with it.  This is within their rights under the IWC rules.

“If Australia and New Zealand believe that the redesigned Japanese scientific whaling programme does not meet the requirements of the ICJ decision, it might be necessary to seek another opinion from the ICJ.  Depending on how the Japanese programme is designed, it is possible that the Court would find in favour of Japan next time.  However, the ICJ will be reluctant to play an ongoing role in mediating between the whaling and non-whaling interests in the IWC.”

Dr Liz Slooten, Associate Professor, Zoology Department, University of Otago, comment:

“Congratulations to our delegation at the International Whaling Commission for the resolution on scientific whaling – which won with 35 countries voting for, 20 against and 5 abstentions!

“At the same meeting, NZ was chastised for the third year in a row, for not doing enough to protect our own Maui dolphins. With 31 countries speaking out to urge NZ to fully protect Maui dolphins, this issue highlighted a sharp contradiction between what NZ says on the international stage and what we do in NZ waters.

“Nobody, except Japan, Norway and other whaling countries, would criticise NZ for wanting to protect the hundreds of thousands of minke whales in the Southern Ocean (total world population about 1 million minke whales). However, most countries are astonished that the same country is doing so little to protect the 55 or so remaining Maui’s dolphins which are only found in NZ.

“So, once again it was bouquets and brick bats at the IWC. Maui dolphins are Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List) and literally teetering on the brink of extinction. The main threat, dolphin deaths in fishing nets, is totally avoidable.

“The NZ delegation agreed with the scientific advice of the IWC. However, our own Minister of Conservation justified the lack of protection in terms of money and jobs on the Otago Elections Project Vote Chat.”