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Japan to ‘resume commercial whaling’ after 30 years

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Dead whales on the deck of a Japanese ship (Credit: International Whaling Commission)

Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial whaling, a practice it officially ended 30 years ago, according to local media. It’s likely to draw criticism from conservationists and other countries.

The announcement to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which regulates the industry, will be made by the end of the month and takes effect next year, the Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday, citing government sources.

Commercial whaling has been banned by the commission since 1986. It rejected a proposal in September that would have allowed the commercial hunt of minke whales and other species which Japan believes are ‘relatively abundant.’

Japan currently uses a scientific exemption to kill hundreds of whales a year, but critics have condemned it as a cover for commercial whaling, noting that meat from the annual research hunt often ends up being sold.

Japan killed at least 488 whales off its coast, in the Antarctic and the Northwest Pacific in the annual hunt that ended in 2017, according to IWC. This includes 372 minke whales, 26 Bryde’s whales, and 90 sei whales.

“The ban on commercial whaling is the one of the biggest success stories in species conservation and we shouldn’t take it for granted,” Astrid Fuchs of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation said in June, when it was reported that Japan was proposing to end the moratorium.

“Whales face a multitude of man-made threats such as climate change, overfishing, pollution and habitat loss,” Fuchs said. “Whale hunts are cruel and whale populations are far from being safe. Instead of discussing the resumption of commercial whaling, Japan should join international efforts to protect whales, dolphins and the oceans.”

A number of other countries are also hunting for whales.

In 2016, Norway killed 591 minke whales and Iceland killed 46, using an objection or reservation to the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Additionally, native peoples in the U.S., Russia, and Denmark are allowed to hunt a limited number of whales to meet nutritional and cultural needs, although some of the meat is sometimes sold to tourists.

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