By Justin McCurry
4 September 2014
Tokyo (theguardian.com) – Japan is expected to spark a fresh round of diplomatic tension after revealing plans to bypass a UN ban on the slaughter of whales in the Antarctic with a new, scaled-down "scientific" programme that limits its catch to minke whales.
Japan was forced to end its hunt in the Antarctic in March after the international court of justice (ICJ) in the Hague challenged Tokyo's contention that its annual pursuit of hundreds of whales in the area was necessary to conduct scientific research.
The country's whaling fleet has sought to catch around 900 minke whales, and a much smaller number of fin and humpback whales, every winter after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986.
The IWC's moratorium allowed meat from the hunts to be sold on the open market in Japan, where consumption of whale meat – once a rare source of protein, in the years after the second world war – has plummeted in recent decades. Environmental campaigners claim the "scientific" programme is a cover for commercial whaling.
Having said they would abide by the UN court's ruling in March, Japanese officials are poised to submit a revised programme to the IWC's scientific committee in November.
Japanese media quoted fisheries agency officials as saying that they would present a draft proposal at the IWC's general meeting in Slovenia this month and add the final touches, including catch quotas, in the following weeks.
Reports said the hunts would probably involve catching fewer minke whales and no fin or humpback whales, as Japanese fisheries officials attempt to pass the "scientific" test set by the ICJ.
The whaling fleet would collect "data necessary to calculate the number of whale catch allowed" after the eventual resumption of commercial whaling and "construct a model of the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem," Agence France-Presse quoted an agency official as saying.
Japan's whaling fleet came close to reaching its annual target of 935 minke whales in 2006, but catches have since slumped because of poor demand and confrontations with the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. During the 2013-14 season, Japan took just 251 minke whales in the Antarctic – a quarter of its target. [more]