The Japanese representative at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is reported to have said earlier this month that most of the whaling issues have been resolved by science. Japan however shows no signs of halting its lethal "research" into whales in the Southern Ocean sanctuary, in spite of appeals from other IWC members.
"This was an admission that there is no scientific need for Japan's research whaling," said Cassandra Phillips, WWF's Coordinator for whales and the Antarctic "it is simply commercial whaling by another name".
This season the Japanese fleet did not manage to catch the whole of their self-awarded quota of 440 whales in the sanctuary. This was the result of the damaging fire on November 19 on board the fleet's factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, which was forced to return to Japan for repairs, cutting short the whale-catching period by five weeks.
Japan also conducts "scientific whaling" in the north Pacific, where they have caught 398 minkes over the past 5 years. Japan has now killed a total of 4554 whales in the name of science since commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986. The IWC is powerless to stop Japan from exploiting a loophole in its rules that allows whaling for "scientific purposes". This provision in the 50-year-old Whaling Convention was originally intended to allow for small-scale genuine scientific research.
A set of proposals from Ireland that would bring whaling back under the control of the IWC will be on the table at the IWC's annual meeting in Grenada, Eastern Caribbean, from 24-28 May 1999. Though the proposals would allow some tightly regulated commercial whaling, Japan has so far refused to discuss them. Instead, it has said that it will propose the abolition of the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary at the meeting.
"Japan has a unique opportunity to agree a solution to the contentious whaling issue," noted Cassandra Phillips, "but by persisting with their lethal research whaling, it appears they are determined to continue their defiance of world opinion."
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