World News

Pregnant Whales Among Hundreds Killed in Japan Hunt, Report Says

Posted May 30, 2018 4:26 p.m. EDT

More than 120 pregnant female whales were among 333 killed during Japan’s recent annual summer hunt off the coast of Antarctica, according to a new report.

The report, released by the International Whaling Commission this month, said 114 of the slaughtered minke whales were considered immature.

The last hunting season in the Antarctic for Japan ran from Dec. 8 to Feb. 28.

Conservationists said the new report was further evidence that Japan was killing whales for commercial purposes under the guise of scientific research.

Whether the annual hunt is legal is unclear, as some federal and international laws are in conflict with one another.

Here are short answers to some complex questions on the issue.

Q: Is the hunt illegal?

A: In 2014, the International Court of Justice temporarily banned Japan from whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, after the court found that the annual whale slaughter program was for commercial purposes, which is illegal.

Under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in 1946, nations are allowed a special permit to kill whales for “purposes of scientific research.”

The Japanese government scrapped the whaling program that had been declared illegal, known as Jarpa II, and began a new one in 2015 called Newrep-A. It describes the program as having a scientific purpose, but experts say it is a cover to continue whaling for profit.

“They’ve sought to exploit this loophole,” said Professor Donald R. Rothwell, an expert in international law at the Australian National University.

Further complicating matters: International law makes it legal for the byproduct of the scientific mission, whale meat, to be sold.

Q: What’s Australia’s role?

A: By federal law, Australia has established an area called the Australian Whale Sanctuary that protects whales, dolphins and porpoises. The area extends to parts of the Antarctic, which Australia has a claim to.

Japan does not recognize Australia’s claim to the Antarctic territories, and ignores it.

In 2010, Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice, accusing it of illegal commercial whaling. This case led to the 2014 judgment that forced Japan to cancel Jarpa II.

In 2015, an Australian court fined the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku 1 million Australian dollars, or $750,000 at current exchange rates, after finding it was in contempt of court. The punishment, however, is not enforceable without the cooperation of the Japanese government.

Rothwell said he believed the Australian government was reluctant to prosecute Japan further.

“If a case seeking to enforce Australian law went before the International Court of Justice, Australia’s claim to Antarctic territory could be directly contested,” he said. “That is not something Australia wants to see happen.”

Q: Why does Japan need to kill whales for science?

A: It’s not clear.

In 2015, an expert panel from the International Whaling Commission tried to answer this question.

The panel said it was “not able to determine whether lethal sampling is necessary” for Japan to achieve its scientific objectives.

Q: Has anything changed in whale conservation?

A: Somewhat.

In its previous whaling program, Jarpa II, Japan was targeting 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales in the Antarctic each year.

Now, the nation has a quota of 333 minke whales for its annual hunt — a reduction of nearly two-thirds.