Japan to defy UN court and continue whaling

by Junichi Sato

April 18, 2014

The Nisshin Maru factory ship, of the Japanese whaling fleet, leaves its berth in Innoshima port, departing to head to the Southern Ocean to begin the whaling season of 2010-2011.

© Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace

There has been disappointing and worrying news today. The Government of Japan has announced that it intends to return to the Southern Ocean to hunt whales in 2015. It has also officially announced that it will again send its factory whaling ship to hunt whales in the North Pacific, although it plans to target fewer whales.

The announcement confirms that although no sperm whales will be targeted, Minke, Brydes and endangered Sei whales will be targeted in the North Pacific in the coming weeks. This news comes just weeks after this years Antarctic whale hunt was cancelled, following a March ruling by the UNs International Court of Justice that it was illegal.

Japanese Whaling Fleet and Greenpeace Inflatables

That ruling clearly confirmed that so-called scientific research whaling in the Southern Ocean was being done for commercial purposes. The judgment led to an urgent review of whaling plans by the Government of Japan, in the midst of international criticism, as well as some internal political pressure.

There have been other significant developments too: Japanese internet giant Rakuten announced it would stop selling whale meat after a campaign by our colleagues EIA, and shipments of endangered fin whale meat en route to Japan have been exposed, blocked, and challenged by Greenpeace in Europe, Africa, and Canada.

Recent media reports from Japan suggest there has been a frantic debate inside the Japanese government. The Government of Japan had already stated that the court case, despite focusing solely on Antarctic whaling, would have ramifications for the North Pacific hunt too. Todays confirmation to carry on whaling comes just days before President Obamas much-anticipated visit to Japan. It will surely cast a cloud on his conversations with Prime Minister Abe.


Man handles a pallet of boxes coming off the Nishin Maru, a ship operated by a private organization set up by Japan's whaling industry and subsidized by the Fisheries Agency of Japan.

Man handles a pallet of boxes coming off the Nishin Maru, a ship operated by a private organization set up by Japan’s whaling industry and subsidized by the Fisheries Agency of Japan.

Its a frustrating time for those of us campaigning to end commercial whaling. The decision to go ahead with these hunts will draw more international criticism for the Government of Japan, and surely raise questions inside Japan as to why so much political effort goes into keeping this dying industry alive.

This is an industry that should simply be consigned to the past, as stockpiles of unwanted whale meat and rapidly diminishing demand clearly show.

The international focus on continued commercial whaling on the high seas has stymied real international progress on whale conservation. Recent reports have shown that some whale species havent yet recovered from commercial whaling in the last century. Thats worrying when we consider all of the other threats, from climate change to ship strikes, that face the worlds whales today.

Its clear that scientific whaling as it has been carried out for many years cannot continue. Now Japan has a chance to stop these whaling expeditions for good. Carrying on as usual might well result in more damaging legal challenges undermining Japans international reputation. Its too bad. The international community reacted so warmly to Japans seeming acceptance of the court judgment.


The UN court ruling, coupled with international criticism and plummeting demand for whale meat in Japan should give Japan an opportunity to end its whaling expeditions for good. Commercial whaling is simply not needed in modern Japan. Ending it might not be politically easy, but its the right thing to do.

Let’s all keep up the positive pressure to make sure it happens.

By Junichi Sato

Junichi Sato is the executive director of Greenpeace Japan and one of the "Tokyo Two" arrested following an investigation into the whale meat trade in Japan.

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