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IWC closes whaling loophole

October 27, 2016

A key decision emerging from the International Whaling Commission could curtail Japan's exploitation of an exception to a ban on commercial whaling, which it claims is for "scientific research."

Minke whale
Image: picture-alliance/WILDLIFE

The International Whaling Commission on Thursday (27.10.2016) passed, by simple majority, a resolution to more stringently review permits for Japan's "scientific" whale-hunting program.

Japan is accused of abusing an exemption to a 30-year moratorium on commercial hunting of whales, by continuing to hunt whales for "scientific research."

Japan kills about 330 whales each year for "research." However, meat from the whales ends up in supermarkets and restaurants, and only very few peer-reviewed papers have emerged from the hunt.

Under the new rules, Japan must now seek approval from the IWC to hunt whales for so-called scientific research.

Previously, a country had only to submit its scientific whaling program. The new process means that a scientific committee must first review the program - before it then goes to a working group and the IWC confirms its validity.

"The International Whaling Commission can now harpoon any fake science programs aimed at hunting whales for meat before they begin," said Luca Nicotra, a senior campaigner at the advocacy group Avaaz.

At the IWC's 66th meeting, which continues through Friday in Slovenia, the resolution passed with 34 votes in favor to 17 against.

"The resolution on special permit whaling has no power to bind Japan or any other party," wrote Glenn Inwood, a consultant and official speaker for Japan at the IWC, in an email to DW. He also accused the EU of stacking the vote with its 28 members.

Indeed, since the IWC lacks the power to sanction countries that violate the resolution, Japan could continue with its whaling.

"We actually don't expect them to adhere to this resolution," Astrid Fuchs of Whale and Dolphin Conservation told DW. Supporting countries see the resolution as a statement - and a potential tool. If Japan does continue to flaunt international decisions, she said, "countries will have to step up their diplomatic or economic pressure on Japan."

Earlier this week, the IWC rejected a proposal for a new whale sanctuary, after a strong lobbying effort on the part of Japan.

In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that there was no scientific case for Japan's program of "lethal research" in the Southern Ocean, and ordered Tokyo to stop.

After the court ruling, Japan cancelled its hunts for 2014 and 2015, only to resume in the following year under a new program.

In its defense, Japan says its whaling program is sustainable. The whales it hunts - minke whales - are relatively abundant, with a global population of around half a million. Conservationists counter that this population, particularly in Antarctic regions, is declining - although there is insufficient data on this front.