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Joji Morishita

Joji Morishita

Dennis Normile

Japan still mulling lethal research whaling

TOKYO—Japan has not yet decided if it will resume killing whales as part of its Antarctic research whaling program, but the country believes it has the right to do so, Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), said here today.

Addressing the press 3 days after IWC's Scientific Committee issued a report stating that opinion is split on whether taking whales for research is justified, Morishita said that Japan will endeavor to address a number of pending scientific questions before resuming the program. But he stressed that under international law, the Scientific Committee "does not have jurisdiction to approve or deny the research plan."

Japan devised a New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean in response to a March 2014 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the previous research whaling effort did not comply with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Following standard procedure, the new plan was studied by an expert committee earlier this year, and then taken up by IWC's Scientific Committee at its annual meeting in San Diego, California, last month. Following precedent, the committee’s report summarizes opinions opposing and supporting the plan. A group of 44 scientists from 18 countries signed a statement appended to the report saying there was no justification for killing whales for research. At today’s press conference, Morishita claimed that there are a number of scientists who agree that the research program should be restarted. 

Opponents and advocates of scientific whaling have been at loggerheads for decades. Many scientists against killing whales for research also oppose the resumption of commercial whaling. Meanwhile, Japan and a handful of other countries, including Norway and Iceland, consider whales a marine resource that can be harvested sustainably. "It's hard if not impossible to see a way out" of the impasse, Morishita said.

*Correction, 25 June, 10:37 a.m.: The story was updated to include that 44 scientists from 18 countries signed a statement appended to the report.