Photograph by Kyodo News, AP

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Crew members off-load a minke whale taken under Japan's scientific whaling program.

Photograph by Kyodo News, AP

Japan's Commercial Whaling Efforts Should Resume, Says Prime Minister

Shinzo Abe tells the country's parliament that he will step up push to restart commercial whaling.

On Monday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee that he would like to step up efforts to resume commercial whaling.

"I want to aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources," Abe told the committee, according to the Guardian.

A March ruling by the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) halted Japan's whaling activities in the waters around Antarctica. The ICJ ruled that Japan's scientific whaling program in the region—which took whales in order to gather data and then sold the meat to markets in Japan—wasn't scientific at all and could be considered a commercial operation. (See "Japan Halts Whaling Program in Response to International Court Ruling.")

Critics of Japan's scientific whaling program have long argued that the lethal take of whales is no longer necessary to gather the scientific data the country wants to collect, such as information on pregnancy rates and age at first reproduction.

Concerns about the unscientific nature of Japan's Antarctic whaling program prompted Australia, supported by New Zealand, to bring a case against Japan to the ICJ in 2010. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully described Abe's comments as "worrying" in a statement.

"While it is not clear precisely what Prime Minister Abe is proposing in the short term, the fact that he has told a Parliamentary Committee that he wants to aim towards the resumption of commercial whaling is both unfortunate and unhelpful," McCully continued.

Back and Forth

Japan has abided by a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling—initiated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC)—since its inception. However, a loophole in the provision allowed Japan to take whales for scientific purposes.

The scientific program aimed to show that whale populations around Antarctica had recovered from previous commercial whaling activities and that the moratorium was no longer needed, says Leigh Henry, senior policy adviser for wildlife conservation with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington, D.C.

Japan hoped that the moratorium would be lifted and it could commence with harvesting those whales, she adds. (Related: "Anti-Whaling Activists Put Focus on Complex Law and Bloody Tradition.")

The ICJ's March ruling applied only to Japan's activities around Antarctica. And although Japan agreed to halt its operation in Antarctica at the time, it has continued taking minke whales in its coastal waters using the scientific loophole, Henry says.

"We're hugely disappointed in the statement from Prime Minister Abe," Henry says. "I think everybody hoped that the [international] court's decision would put an end to [Japan's scientific whaling] and Japan would walk away," she adds. "But clearly they're not."

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