Japanese ships set toward Antarctic "for science's sake"

By Daniele Pestilli on January 11, 2015
Whale meat being sold at Tsukiji market in Tokyo. (Image by Kent Wang - CC)

As Japanese ships set out towards Antarctic waters just days ago, anti-whaling activists have once again criticized Tokyo's plan to conduct its annual “research” hunting, RT network reports.

These ships, which will be heading to the Antarctic without harpoons due to a recent international ban imposed on Japan, are said to have been dispatched “for the sake of science.” In the past, similar operations which were also in the name of science have often resulted in marine bloodbaths aimed at delivering delicacies to Japanese eateries.

On January 5th, 2015, Asahi News released an article stating that the Japanese Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau refused entry to eight activists of the Sea Shepherd group from January to October 2014. The reason for this denial was, “failure to specify a travel itinerary.” In fact, upon entry into Japan, the Sea Shepherd group members cited “sightseeing” as their travel purpose. They were deported from Narita airport for not informing immigration officers of the exact details of their “sightseeing” travel plans.

In the past, the Sea Shepherd group also protested against dolphin slaughters that take place in Taiji, Wakayama prefecture on a yearly basis.

Whereas dolphin hunting has gone on for centuries in Japan, these particularly brutal dolphin “drive hunts” have only been around since the 1970s. As the Sea Shepherd group explains,

It is argued by the dolphin hunters of Taiji that this form of commercial hunting is an ancient practice; however that simply is not true. The practice of drive hunting is not even as old as some of the men who practice it.

Sea Shepherd claim they are not anti-Japanese or opposed to any group of people, but are merely against the yearly slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises that takes place in Japan every year. An entry published in the Ecological Society of America explains, “The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans, but recovery is possible [...] with the restoration of great whale populations.”

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) imposed a moratorium against commercial whaling on Japan due to plummeting whaling populations. The following year, in 1987, Japan exploited a provision in the whaling convention that allows killing whales “for purposes of scientific research.”

Last year, in March 2014, a condemnation from the highest court in the world – the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – ruled that Japan must end its whaling activities. Although the Japanese government has temporarily reduced its target number of 900 minke whales to 333, Tokyo has nonetheless stated its intention to continue whaling practices in 2015/2016.

Japan, whose history of industrial-scale whaling only began in the 1890s, claims its actions are “for purposes of scientific research.” However, the International Court of Justice ordered the cessation of Japanese whaling given the species-specific sample sizes, the gaps between target sample sizes and actual take, the lack of a termination date of said research and the lack of evidence that Japan is fulfilling its stated scientific objectives. In September 2014, Japan’s commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, Joji Morishita, claimed that Japan had published 666 peer-reviewed papers based on its scientific whaling research. This, according to ICJ's judges, was false: only two peer-reviewed papers had been published since 2005.

Despite the ICJ's ruling, Japan continues to harvest whales in the name of “scientific research.”