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Australia files suit against Japan over whaling; Japanese official says the country will 'firmly respond'

A Japanese whaling ship

TOKYO — Japan said Tuesday that it would staunchly defend its research hunt that kills hundreds of whales a year, a day after Australia filed an international lawsuit arguing that the cull does not qualify for a scientific exemption to a 1986 ban.

Australia -- Japan's major trading partner -- filed its lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday, officials in both countries confirmed, after Canberra announced its intention last week to file suit after years of fruitless diplomatic efforts to end the hunt.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano -- Japan's top government spokesman -- called Australia's action "extremely regrettable." A Japanese Foreign Ministry official in charge of whaling said that Tokyo would defend itself before the international court.

"We cannot accept Australia's argument at all," ministry official Yutaka Aoki said. "We will firmly respond to the lawsuit."

Japan joins Norway and Iceland in hunting whales under exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Japan says its hunt falls under an exemption that allows for scientific research, but opponents call Japan's scientific research whaling program a cover for commercial hunts.

Excess meat from the program is available in Japan for consumption through limited outlets such as special whale restaurants and public school lunch programs.

Australia's case maintains that Japan's hunt is essentially for commercial purposes and that it fails to qualify for the scientific exemption, partly because of "a lack of any demonstrated relevance for the conservation and management of whale stocks," according to court documents.

New Zealand has said it will decide within weeks whether it will file a similar case against Japan.

Japanese officials say whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of the country's food culture. Tokyo also argues that whale stocks have sufficiently recovered since 1986 to allow a resumption of limited hunts among certain species.

The International Whaling Commission, which will meet this month in Morocco, is mulling over a plan that would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time since the ban, but under strict quotas.

Escalated confrontations between activists from the group Sea Shepherd and Japanese vessels have forced Japan's Antarctic mission in recent years to return home with only half its catch quota of about 900 whales.

Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune, 45, who boarded a Japanese whaling ship in Antarctic seas as part of a protest in February, pleaded guilty last week to charges including trespassing and destruction of property. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Bethune is the first Sea Shepherd arrested by Japan over the conservationists' aggressive campaigning against whaling. Japan's whaling program involves large-scale expeditions to the Antarctic, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their coasts.

International Whaling Commission leader is 'optimistic' for compromise at June meeting
Researchers say their Antarctic expedition proves whales don't need to be killed for study

-- Shino Yuasa, Associated Press

Photo: Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru arrives in the Tokyo port April 12, her hull stained by red marks left by Sea Shepherd whaling protesters. Credit: Jiji Press / AFP/Getty Images

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The sordid history of the whaling industry has made it abundantly clear that Japan and the other whaling nations will continue business as usual. They'll continue to subvert and violate whatever rules are currently in place while lobbying to remove the official restrictions they already don't adhere to.

Historically, whaling nations like Japan have violated size limits, species limits, seasonal limits, sanctuary boundaries and all manner of quotas. They've even supported "pirate whaling" in the 70s and 80s. (that's front companies with foreign labor killing whales in secret without following any regulations all for the "traditional" purpose of smuggling unreported whale meat to Japanese markets)

Norway objected to the moratorium when it was first implemented and simply continued to commercially kill whales anyway. Norway also exports whale meat to Japan.

Iceland at first accepted the moratorium (making it legally bound to adhere) but then tried to follow Japan's example with a bogus research whaling program. Economic boycott and the threat of US sanctions forced Iceland to give up whaling in 1989 and it left the IWC in 1992. However, in 2002 Iceland returned to the IWC and through some controversial votes managed to reverse its original decision on the moratorium. Now Iceland commercially hunts endangered Fin whales and exports the meat to Japan.

Japan is the worst offender when it comes to whaling. More whales are slaughtered by Japanese whalers than by any other whaling nation. Japan is responsible for killing both endangered and non-endangered species and even takes most of its whales in an internationally established whale sanctuary. When the moratorium was put into effect, Japan accepted it thanks to pressure from the USA. However, plans to begin scientific whaling were put into place as soon as the moratorium became a reality. As soon as the moratorium took effect, Japan began killing whales and calling it "scientific research". The IWC scientific committee has repeatedly rejected Japan's science whaling proposals and almost annual resolutions have been issued calling on Japan to stop using lethal methods.

Several independent legal panels have pointed out that Japan can be held in violation of international agreements regarding the slaughtering of whales, the international trade in endangered species and dumping industrial waste (by products of whaling such as guts and offal) into the Antarctic. As a result of these legal opinions and the ongoing outcry of the Australian public, the government of Australia has filed a suit against Japan with the International Court of Justice.

Hopefully the outcome of this legal process will finally reign in the rogue nations that have continued to subvert and violate international agreements and whale conservation efforts.


Is whaling a crime?
U.S.A. is a whaling nation.
U.S.A. is a crime country, too. Is it different?

Are mink whales an endangered species?
Are Greenland whales which U.S.A. does hunting of an endangered species?

Do not you know it?


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