Tag Archives: International Whaling Commission

Does new ‘mother ship’ portend increased whaling by Japan?

The Japanese government is considering the replacement of the “mother ship” in its fleet of whaling vessels, as part of a potential expansion of whaling in the Antarctic.

Nisshin Maru, Japan’s whaling factory ship
Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The newspaper Japan Times today received confirmation that the Japanese Fishing Agency has requested the equivalent of $910,000 to study the future of commercial whaling. If approved, the study would consider ideas for replacing the 30-year-old Nisshin Maru, best known as the factory ship used for processing whale meat. Japanese officials collect certain information about the whales and call it scientific research.

Anti-whaling activists, including Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, reacted harshly to the news, saying the study is a sign that the Japanese government not only intends to keep slaughtering whales but may be on the verge of expanding commercial operations.

“I will say, that if this replacement floating slaughter house — this Cetacean Death Star — is built and if it returns to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with an increased quota, it will be strongly, passionately and aggressively opposed,” Watson wrote in a Facebook post. “The Whale Wars is not over.”

After problems with finding and pursuing the Japanese whalers last year, Sea Shepherd did not send any ships into battle this year. It was the first time in 12 years that Sea Shepherd has failed to confront the whalers in the Southern Ocean — except for 2014 when the Japanese whalers called off the hunt.

“What we discovered,” Watson said in a news release last August, “is that Japan is now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite, and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us…. We cannot compete with their military-grade technology.”

Watson said he has also heard that the Japanese military may be sent to protect the whalers if Sea Shepherd tries to stop them.

Sea Shepherd is not giving up its efforts to protect the whales in the Southern Ocean, Watson stressed. Instead, the organization will develop new tactics while calling on the Australian government to do more to protect the whales.

In December, countries in the European Union and 12 other nations expressed their opposition to the whaling taking place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a protected area established by the International Whaling Commission. Australia and New Zealand, but not the United States, are among the signatories.

The “Joint statement against whaling” points out that the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the Japanese whaling did not meet the basic requirements for scientific studies. Legitimate research is one of the few exemptions that allow the killing of whales under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The Japanese called off the whaling the following summer in Antarctica but started it up again the next year under a new whaling plan submitted to the International Whaling Commission. The Japanese government said it would never again place itself under the jurisdiction of the international court.

The IWC has since questioned the new whaling plans and has adopted two resolutions calling on the Japanese to halt whaling until the new scientific plan can be reviewed by the Scientific Committee of the IWC. Japan objected to the process on procedural grounds in a position statement and ignored the international posture, including the latest IWC resolution (16-2) in 2016.

Plans to replace or overhaul the Nisshin Maru were first floated in 2005, according to sources quoted in Japan News. Nothing happened, however, until this year when the idea was resurrected by pro-whaling lawmakers in Japan.

The ship was built in 1987 as a trawler and converted to a whale processor in 1991. Whales harpooned by smaller vessels can be pulled up a gangway to the deck for slaughter. Up to 1,200 tons of meat can be stored in a freezer below decks, according to the newspaper.

“Even though the ship has been painted over, rust that can’t be hidden stands out,” said an observer quoted in Japan News. “It is old, aged nearly 100 in human years.”

Some reports said Japanese officials want a ship that could operate quicker on the high seas to evade Sea Shepherd’s aggressive actions, which they consider to be terrorism.

About 100 people were said to be on board the Nisshin Maru in November when the ship departed from Japan’s Innoshima island, Hiroshima Prefecture, heading for the Southern Ocean. The goal is to hunt up to 333 minke whales, a quota established by the Japanese government with no outside approval.

Sea Shepherd encounters Japanese whalers at start of summer season

It has just turned winter in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that it is now summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The Japanese whaling fleet has entered the Southern Ocean to kill up to a self-designated quota of 333 minke whales, and Sea Shepherd has given chase.

Ocean Warrior, Sea Shepherd's newest ship, moving beyond pack ice in the Southern Ocean. Photo: Sea Shepherd Global/Simon Ager
Ocean Warrior, Sea Shepherd’s newest ship, moving beyond pack ice in the Southern Ocean.
Photo: Sea Shepherd Global/Simon Ager

We have heard the story before, and many of us have watched the drama play out during six seasons of the TV series “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet. This year, Sea Shepherd hopes to have an advantage with a ship declared to be faster than the Japanese whaling vessels, as I explained in Water Ways at the end of August.

On Dec. 3, the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin left Melbourne, Australia, for the Southern Ocean for its 11th campaign against the whalers. The Steve Irwin was followed a day later by the new ship, Ocean Warrior. Yesterday, the Ocean Warrior located one of the Japanese harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru, inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, according to Capt. Adam Meyerson, the skipper of the Ocean Warrior.

“The crews of the Ocean Warrior and the MV Steve Irwin have been battling through thick fog and ice to protect the whales in the Australian whale sanctuary,” Meyerson said in a news release. “The Yushin Maru was hiding behind an iceberg and came out on a collision course.

“Finding one of the hunter-killer ships hiding behind an iceberg in a thick fog means that the rest of the fleet is nearby,” he added. “We all hope to have whaling in the Southern Ocean shut down by Christmas.”

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Japanese whalers intend to kill minke whales, despite world opinion

Japanese whalers recently returned to the Antarctic with a new plan to kill 333 minke whales for scientific research, defying official positions of many countries throughout the world.

A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 try to finish it off with a rifle. Photo: Sea Shepherd
A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 attempt to finish it off with rifle shots.
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Japan called off the annual whaling program for one year after the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s commercial whaling operation failed to meet the basic requirements of scientific research. Japan had been using an exemption for research to get around a ban on whaling under international treaty.

Japan submitted a new “research” plan for this year’s whaling, but the document has yet to receive any official sanction. In fact, Japan’s return to the Southern Ocean has been condemned by at least 33 government leaders.

Russell F. Smith II, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, said the U.S. government does not believe it is necessary to kill whales to carry out scientific research consistent with objectives of the IWC. Two key IWC committees have raised serious questions about Japan’s whaling program, he said.

“Japan has decided to proceed with the hunt without addressing several significant issues raised in their reports,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “One of the key issues raised during both the Expert Panel and SC (Scientific Committee) meetings was that Japan had not justified the need for lethal whaling to carry out its research. Unfortunately, rather than giving itself time to modify its research program to fully address these issues, Japan has decided to restart its program now.”

Japan’s plan for whaling this winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) is to kill 333 minke whales, down from 935 minkes in plans for previous years. In this new plan, the Japanese government has not sanctioned the killing of humpback or fin whales, for which the previous goal was 50 of each.

Although the Japanese government has declared that an annual harvest of 333 minke whales is sustainable, the International Whaling Commission has not approved the whale hunt nor even begun discussing possible quotas or how any harvest, if approved, would be allocated among other countries.

Minke whale Photo: Sea Shepherd
Minke whale // Photo: Sea Shepherd

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has informed the United Nations that it will no longer submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for “any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea.” See story, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19, 2015.

Australia, which brought the international lawsuit against Japan, is now considering another round in the legal battle. The effort could put Japan back in the spotlight, even though success would be unlikely if Japan spurns the court’s jurisdiction, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald on Dec. 8, 2015.

Australian courts also ruled against the Japanese whalers for violating protection provisions within the Australian Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica, although Japan does not recognize Australia’s jurisdiction. The whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, was fined $1 million (in Australian dollars) for contempt of an injunction against killing Minke whales within the sanctuary.

Other countries have joined the overall opposition to Japanese whaling. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his country’s ambassador to Tokyo delivered a “strong” formal message to Japan from 33 countries. Read the statement on the New Zealand Embassy’s webpage.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which directly interfered with the movements of Japanese whaling ships in past years, may take a more low-key role on whaling this year. The organization’s ships have become involved in new campaigns to halt poaching of other species, including the endangered toothfish in Antarctic waters. See news release Oct. 13, 2015.

Sea Shepherd’s U.S. affiliate was enjoined by the U.S. courts from interfering with the whaling operations, but Sea Shepherd Australia continued the high-seas battles, as featured in the television series “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet.

Now, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin, which was undergoing repairs in Melbourne, Australia, is headed into the Southern Ocean on its second campaign against toothfish poaching. Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, says new battles against the Japanese whalers are not out of the question.

“Sea Shepherd is an anti-poaching organization,” Cornelissen said in a news release. “We are ready to find, document, report on and where possible intervene against poaching operations that threaten the precious balance of life in the Southern Ocean; whatever form those poachers might take, whatever life they threaten.

“If Sea Shepherd comes across criminal activity, then our history speaks for itself,” he added. “We will, as always, directly intervene to prevent that crime from taking place.”

Sea Shepherd U.S., which was thwarted in direct action by the courts, has now filed a counterclaim in those same U.S. Courts, hoping to get a legal injunction against the Japanese government for its whaling activities. The legal campaign is called “Operation Ultimate Justice.”

“For years, Sea Shepherd took direct action against the whalers on the seas, saving one whale at a time from the Japanese harpoons,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “But if we are to bring the illegal slaughter to an end once and for all, we cannot simply defeat the Japanese whalers on the water; we need to defeat them in the courts.”

Japanese whaling on trial before UN court

UPDATE, July 4, 2013
Japanese officials say objections to its scientific whaling program are based on moral arguments, not legal ones. Australia cannot win this case, Japanese officials say, because the international treaty allows for scientific whaling and it allows member countries to determine for themselves what qualifies as science.

This legal position is explained in a story written by Andrew Darby published in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

A later story by Darby, published in today’s Herald, reports on the surprising testimony by a witness called by the Japanese government. The witness, a Norwegian expert named Lars Walloe, described several problems he had with the Japanese research, but he confirmed that it was research.
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Whether Japan’s annual whale hunt is a true scientific endeavor or a commercial operation without legal justification is the question being debated before the United Nations highest court this week.

Australia, supported by New Zealand, brought the case against Japan to the International Court of Justice, which is holding hearings in The Hague, Neatherlands.

Australia hopes to bring Japan’s whaling activities under normal prescriptions from the International Whaling Commission, as opposed to the ongoing scientific permits issued by the Japanese government that allow for hundreds of whales to be killed each year.

Bill Campbell, Australia’s agent to the court, addressed the 16-judge panel in the Great Hall of Justice, according to a report by Mike Corder of The Associated Press.

“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” he said, later telling reporters, “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research.”

Japan, which will present its side next week, has stated that it will challenge the court’s authority to hear the case while justifying its whaling operations under international whaling agreements.

To read more about the court proceedings:

Mike Corder, Associated Press

Julian Drape, Australian Associated Press

Mary Gearin, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

International Whaling Commission has its hands full

UPDATE, Friday, June 25
“There are no winners and losers in this,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former prime minister. “It ain’t over til it’s over, and even then it ain’t over. There will be a pause. We will resume discussions about this next year,” he told The Associated Press.

As the IWC meeting ended today, Greenland’s native population was granted permission to hunt a few humpback whales for the next three years, expanding the list of species the Greenlanders are allowed to kill under the license of subsistence hunting.
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UPDATE, Wednesday, June 23
Whaling moratorium talks break down — so whaling nations will continue to set their own limits. Changes in the governance of the International Whaling Commission will be considered. See report in Reuters.
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UPDATE, Tuesday, June 22
A Norwegian delegate to the International Whaling Commission, Karsten Klepsvick, told Reuters reporters today that the compromise being debated behind closed doors will fail:

“As we can see it today, we do not believe these negotiations will succeed. There are at least eight, ten stumbling blocks, but the main stumbling block is that those who are against whaling seem to be willing to accept nothing but nil (quotas), and we cannot accept that.”
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The future of the International Whaling Commission — and perhaps even the survival of certain whale species — rests on decisions being made this week in Morocco.

While I have no personal insight into this story, I think it’s worth summarizing activities swirling around the meeting that began today. If you haven’t heard, a controversial proposal by IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira would lift the ban on whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway. In return, the three countries would come back into the fold of the IWC, with new quotas officially imposed by the commission to reduce recent harvest levels.

Maquieira says his plan could save thousands of whales a year. (Check out an article Maquieira wrote for the BBC or read a press release (PDF 40 kb) issued by the IWC.) As the annual meeting of the IWC got under way today, Maquiera was not present due to illness, according to reporter Arthur Max of the Associated Press.

Deputy Chairman Anthony Liverpool opened the meeting then quickly moved the discussions behind closed doors for two days of negotiations among the strident anti-whaling countries as well as those that insist that whaling is a long-held cultural right. It’s in those meetings that things may come to a head.

Currently, Japan, Iceland and Norway set their own whaling quotas. Japan claims an exemption in the IWC Charter that allows for the taking of whales for scientific research — even though nearly all the whale meat ends up in the commercial market. Iceland and Norway operate under a process that allows formal objections to the whaling moratorium.

In a surprise move leading up to today’s meeting, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment Group and the World Wildlife Fund said in a joint statement (PDF 420 kb) that a compromise on quotas is possible but only if six essential elements are met:

  1. End all whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary near Antarctica.
  2. All whale products must be consumed in the country for which the hunt was authorized.
  3. Catch limits must be calculated by the IWC’s scientific committee to assure appropriate management procedures.
  4. Harvest of threatened, endangered or vulnerable species would not be allowed.
  5. Scientific whaling beyond the limits set by the IWC would not be allowed.
  6. Contracting governments must agree not to operate under objections to the agreement as originally allowed in the IWC Charter.

Meanwhile, other environmental groups argue that it is wrong to kill whales and that any compromise serves to reward the whaling countries for bad behavior. As Nikki Entrup of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society told John Vidal of The Guardian:

“It would be a fundamental mistake now to reward those three whaling nations who have continued to ignore the international consensus on commercial whaling and are opposed by millions of people around the world. What kind of message does that give out to countries like Korea who used to whale? I urge Greenpeace to withdraw their position. They want to do the right thing in principle but more whales are killed in the northern hemisphere than in the south.”

Japan has hinted that it might pull out of the IWC if member nations can’t abide its whaling activities. Meanwhile, Australia has filed an action against Japan in the International Court of Justice, saying Japan’s actions are a direct violation of the international whaling ban in the Southern Ocean.

International politics and intrigue run thick through this whole story. Check out last weekend’s Times of London for an investigative report accusing Japan of bribing officials of other countries to come to the IWC meeting and support whaling.

It will be interesting to see if members of the IWC can find a way to make the organization relevant again.

IWC meeting ends, mired as usual in frustration

A mood of disappointment seemed to hang over delegates as the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting came to an end in Portugal.

No real accomplishments were cited, and the debate between whaling and anti-whaling advocates will go on.

Perhaps the most positive comment I saw was by Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in a story by Association Press reporter Barry Hatton. Hatton made the point that the IWC was set up in 1949 to allocate the whale harvest and now discusses environment threats, such as pollution and climate change.

Said Ramage, “The tone and substance (of the talks) reflect a steady drift towards the IWC becoming a conservation forum and away from being a whalers’ club.”

Other reports worth noting:

OrcaLab
Agence France Presse:
The Christian Science Monitor
BBC News
Reuters
Radio Australia

Value of keeping whales alive pushed at IWC meeting

Anti-whaling groups are turning to economics as a key reason why all countries should discontinue commercial whaling.

A report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concludes that the whale-watching industry has more than doubled over the past decade. In 2008, more than 13 million people in 119 countries and territories participated in whale watching, generating a total $2.1 billion in direct expenditures, the report says.

The report, by Economists at Large & Associates of Melbourne, Australia, was released at this week’s International Whaling Commission’s Meeting in Madeira, Portugal.

From the report:

Across the globe, the whale watching industry has grown at an average rate of 3.7% per year, comparing well against global tourism growth of 4.2% per year over the same period.

But the growth rate of whale watching at a global level tells only part of the story. At a regional level, average annual growth has occurred well above growth in tourism rates in five of the seven regions in this report: Asia (17% per year), Central America and the Caribbean (13% per year), South America (10% per year), Oceania and the Pacific Islands (10% per year) and Europe (7%), evidence of strongly emerging industries…

The picture that emerges is of an industry that provides a new model for use of natural resources — an industry that relies on whales in a non‐extractive way. That, when well managed, can be truly sustainable and provide a sharp contrast to the days when whales were seen solely as a resource to be hunted and consumed.

It should be noted, however, that whaling watching itself is not without its impacts. The IWC has focused considerable attention on this issue as well. See this year’s report from the Scientific Subcommittee on Whale Watching (PDF 220 kb).

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund International concludes that whaling activities in Japan and Norway are not profitable by themselves and probably would not exist without subsidies. The June 18 issue of Science News reviews that study.

Iceland and Japan argue that whaling is an important cultural tradition and should be maintained even as the whale-watching industry grows.

“Allegations that whaling affects whale watching have proven not to be true,” said Tomas Heidar, Iceland’s commissioner to the IWC, in a report by Richard Black of the BBC. “On the contrary, whale watching has been growing steadily in the last few years after our resumption of commercial whaling [in 2006].”

Politics comes under fire at International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission continues to be pushed and pulled, both from within the organization and from outside. Sometimes I wonder how this organization manages to keep functioning. Following a special commission meeting last week, I thought it might be worth recounting a little history and taking a few comments.

The IWC originally was set up in 1946 to determine what species of whales should be commercially harvested and to establish quotas for long-term sustainability. Many countries, including the United States, have since taken the position that whales should be protected, not killed. Some countries, however, still view sustainable whale hunting as not much different from commercial fishing, and the U.S. supports aboriginal whaling in Alaska and elsewhere in the world.

A moratorium on commercial whaling, started in 1986, remains in effect pending scientific conclusions about stock abundance, reproductive rates and other issues related to population dynamics. Because Iceland, Norway and Russia lodged formal objections to the moratorium, they are not subject to its conditions.

Meanwhile, Japan conducts whaling under special research permits issued by the government. This is one of the most contentious issues in the IWC, and Japan’s fleet of whaling ships has killed several thousand minke whales and other species in the Antarctic. (This is where Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has confronted Japanese whalers on the high seas.)

Because the IWC is voluntary and acts on consensus, its authority is limited. Delegates sometimes find themselves walking on eggshells to keep the organization from falling apart, and sometimes delegates walk out in frustration.

Last week, during the intersessional meeting in Rome, the commission authorized continued work on a policy that could allow limited whaling in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The policy also would look for ways to reduce whaling in the Antarctic.

Anti-whaling groups are calling the deal overtly political and contrary to the scientific approach that has directed the IWC up until now.

“Science has been thrown to the whalers like Christians to the lions in ancient Rome,” said Patrick Ramage the International Fund for Animal Welfare. See the report by the Environmental News Service.

Several conservation groups have called for the firing of William Hogarth, the U.S. commissioner and current chairman of the commission. Hogarth has been walking a tightrope, carefully considering arguments between whaling and anti-whaling countries. It seems as if his goal is to keep the IWC together, even if it means concessions to the whaling countries. For some insight into the difficulties, read the “Report on the Small Working Group (SWG) on the Future of the International Whaling Commission” (PDF 228 kb) and Hogarth’s testimony (PDF 24 kb) before a U.S. House committee.

The Obama administration is not sitting on the sidelines on this issue. Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, issued a statement March 6 with these comments:

The United States continues to view the commercial whaling moratorium as a necessary conservation measure and believes that lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary in modern whale conservation management. The United States also continues to have significant concerns over the recent resumption of international trade of whale meat.

The issues before the IWC are so complicated that I cannot envision a true resolution. As such, I would not be surprised if some sort of solutions result from public pressure and economics rather than international politics.

So what do you think?