Conservationists fear Japan’s ‘blatant’ attempt to overturn whaling moratorium could be accepted by International Whaling Commission

"Member countries must stand together and push progress towards whale protection, not let this commission be pulled back into the bygone era of commercial whaling."

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Image Credit: Mark Brownlow/WWF

Conservationists fear that a 1986 moratorium on commercial whale watching could soon be lifted. At this year’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil, Japan proposed some rule changes that will “blatantly” resume commercial whaling, something conservationists say the country is ultimately trying to achieve.

While the country said its aim is for “the sustainable use of whales,” Japan started their “scientific whaling” program dating back to 1987 as a “loophole” to IWC’s whaling ban, conservationists claim. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Japan has killed 15,600 whales in the Antarctic since it launched its program.

“If Japan’s proposals were accepted it would once again be open season on whales, so this is the most dangerous and reckless attempt to bring back commercial whaling that we have seen in decades,” Claire Bass, chairwoman of Humane Society International U.K., said.

Now Japan proposes the establishment of a “Sustainable Whaling Committee”, “which would create catch-quotas for nations wishing to allow their citizens to hunt healthy whale populations for commercial purposes,” Agence France Presse reported. The country also wants to reform IWC’s descision-making rule, which requires three-quarters majority in order to change a rule, and instead go with a simple majority vote.

“Our challenge at this meeting is whether we can bridge the two different ideas or find a situation where we can agree to disagree so that we can see the future rather than just fighting each other,” Joji Morishita, the incoming Japanese commission chairman, said.

Delegates from Japan are convinced that the Minke whale population, including other species, are healthy arguing that “recovering stocks of some species justifies a return to ‘sustainable whaling,'” Agence France Presse reported.

Instead, at the week-long meeting in Brazil, conservationists opposed to commercial whaling are “trying to rally anti-whaling nations behind a ‘Florianopolis Declaration,’ which states that commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity, favoring increased investment in whale watching,” AFP reported.

“This meeting is critical,” Patrick Ramage from International Fund for Animal Welfare said. “Member countries must stand together and push progress towards whale protection, not let this commission be pulled back into the bygone era of commercial whaling.”

Other issues that are being discussed at the IWC meeting include risks that human-made underwater noise pollution, climate change, ship strikes and fishing gear pollution have on whales.

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