On December 26, Japan announced that it will leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC), ending its 65-year membership in the organization. In an associated announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that the nation plans to conduct commercial whaling within its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Japan’s IWC withdrawal will take effect on June 30, 2019.
AWI is deeply critical of Japan’s rejection of international governance of an increasingly imperiled marine environment. Japan’s decision to pursue commercial whaling (apparently of minke, Bryde’s, and sei whales) in its territorial waters and EEZ is a grave disappointment. Commercial whaling is economically, politically, legally, and scientifically indefensible in the 21st century. These hunts will be inhumane and impossible to regulate. They may also imperil populations that have not recovered from centuries of commercial whaling and now face other threats to their survival, including pollution and bycatch. Japan’s IWC resignation sets a dangerous precedent for the two other commercial whaling nations (Norway and Iceland) and dozens of other allies of Japan that remain members of the IWC but which may decide to follow the same course.
On a positive note, Japan will end its Antarctic whaling program—an industrial-scale operation conducted under the charade of research. Whales in this region have endured more than a century of almost nonstop commercial exploitation. Although Suga did not state this explicitly, Japan also appears to accept that its landing of sei whales taken on the high seas of the North Pacific violates the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (see AWI Quarterly, winter 2018) and this hunt, therefore, will also end. These are outcomes that AWI has worked toward for decades. Japan’s departure will also allow the IWC to advance its important conservation and welfare agenda—efforts that Japan and its allies have blocked for decades.