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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Governments Must Commit to Whale Protection Policies

The 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling has been a considerable success, with tens of thousands of whales spared over the last three decades. Still, the pro-whaling nations continue to wage a well-funded, relentless campaign to attack and undermine the moratorium, often with support from the highest government levels.


That’s one reason that we celebrate the historic victory that our colleagues at Humane Society International-Australia have achieved today in a court case against Japanese whaling in the Australian federal court. The court found the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku guilty of contempt for killing minke whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, in breach of a 2008 injunction and Australian law. The court has fined Kyodo a total of $1million AUS—or $250,000 AUS (some $177,439 U.S.) for every year it has been whaling in the Sanctuary, a non-contiguous zone which includes Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 200 nautical mile area surrounding the continent of Australia and its external dependencies.

It’s one of the largest penalties ever imposed under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and it comes just a month or so before Japan’s whaling fleet is expected to return to the Southern Ocean, in the Antarctic, where last year, for the first time in a century, no whales were taken.

Japanese whalers stayed away from there after last year’s ruling by the UN's judicial body—the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program in Antarctic waters was not legal. Essentially, Japan had dressed-up a commercial enterprise as a scientific one, and despite the longstanding notoriety of this endeavor, it required a major legal effort, led by the Australian government (and supported by New Zealand), which brought the case to make Japan stop.

And stop it did for one season. At first, Japan agreed to abide by the court ruling but soon it became clear that Japan intended only to pause and reshape its “research program” to return to Antarctic whale killing in the name of science. Japan now claims that its new lethal research program addresses the shortcomings of the previous program identified in the ICJ ruling. There is little support from the scientific community for this premise, and of course there is no scientific need to kill whales for research.

Recently, Japan also made a formal declaration to the United Nations that it will not allow the ICJ further jurisdiction over its marine activities, thereby trying to slam the door shut on any future legal proceedings in that body. This was one more example of Japan’s determination to flout international opinion and—now—national and international law concerning commercial whaling, and it deserves a stern response from the nations of the world, including the United States. The conservation and protection of the environment and of animals, including marine mammals, demands a more serious commitment within the foreign policy of every good nation, and we’re not seeing enough of that in the world at present.

The United States is just one of the many countries that should be stepping up to confront Japan squarely for its brazen defiance of the emerging consensus that the persecution of whales in our world’s oceans must come to an end. With Humane Society International-Australia, we are calling for urgent diplomatic action at the highest political level to ask Japan to desist. Japan, and the other whaling countries, Norway and Iceland, need to know that other nations will no longer turn a blind eye to the cruelty and suffering imposed by their whaling fleets.

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