JAPAN HAS DECIDED to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume whaling in its coastal waters, a government spokesman confirmed. The commission, with 89 member governments, was established in 1946 to conserve whales and manage whaling around the world. It banned commercial whaling in 1986.
Although Japan is the main market for whale meat, consumption there is limited—about an ounce per person per year, or about 4,000 to 5,000 tons, according to a report by the Animal Welfare Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to alleviate animal suffering, and the Environmental Investigation Agency, which tracks international wildlife crime.
According to Astrid Fuchs, whaling program manager for the U.K.-based nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation, who spoke to National Geographic before the news was confirmed, Japan’s withdrawal would primarily be a political move, sending the message that the country can use the oceans as they please.
“For decades Japan has aggressively pursued a well-funded whaling campaign to upend the global ban on commercial whaling,” says Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International. “It has consistently failed but instead of accepting that most nations no longer want to hunt whales, it has now simply walked out.”
“They’ve been thumbing their nose at the moratorium and the will of international citizens for a long time,” Block says.
In a vote this summer during the commission’s annual meeting, Japan’s proposal to allow commercial whaling was rejected.
“They put a lot of money into it,” Fuchs says. “Part of the government really expected that they might be able to swing the mood with some countries at the meeting.”