Japan plans to resume controversial whale hunt next year


In 2000, Japanese fishermen cut the body of a whale as pupils of a local elementary school watch. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

Two weeks after the International Court of Justice ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s controversial Antarctic whaling program, the institute behind the nation’s whaling has announced Japan will be back in the hunt by the middle of next year.

On Friday, the Institute for Cetacean Research, which directs most of Japan’s whaling missions, said in a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle that it expects to continue whaling after Japan’s government lifts its moratorium on permits in the 2014-2015 season.

“Plaintiffs expect that they will be conducting a Southern Ocean research program for subsequent seasons that would be in accord with the [ICJ] decision,” the institute said in its lawsuit seeking an injunction against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental group.

The announcement pits Japan’s whalers against outraged environmentalists who hailed last month’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) order.

The matter was initially brought before the international court in 2010 when Australia accused Japan, which has had rights to kill unlimited numbers of whales in the Antarctic, of hiding its commercial whaling industry under a veil of research.

In a 12-4 decision, the court ordered Japan to temporarily halt operations. Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species aren’t in danger of extinction and accused Australia of imposing its “cultural norms,” said it would abide by the decision.

“As a state that respects the rule of law … and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the ruling of the court,” Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said.

The Institute, when contacted by Reuters, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation and stressing that any decisions to continue whaling would be made by the government.

Australian officials expressed anger at the news that Japanese whalers may soon return to waters it only just exited. “The prime minister needs to immediately issue a public statement that he will not accept a return to Southern Ocean whaling and will pursue all legal avenues to prevent it happening,” Australian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson told the Associated Press.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said he wasn’t surprised that the Institute for Cetacean Research wanted back in the whaling game. “When the ICJ verdict was issued, I … could see the potential for the Institute for Cetacean Research to rewrite their program and to return,” he told Reuters. “My prediction was that they would return for the 2015-2016 season. It seems that this is exactly what they intend to do.”

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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