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"We are confident we have completed our scientific homework,” says Japanese IWC representative Joji Morishita.

"We are confident we have completed our scientific homework,” says Japanese IWC representative Joji Morishita.

Tim Hornyak

Japan defends scientific value of new plan to kill 333 minke whales

TOKYO–Japan has resumed its controversial lethal research whaling because it wants to determine how many minke whales can be harvested sustainably while studying the environment, Joji Morishita, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), told a press conference here today. “We’d like to find out how the marine ecosystem of the Antarctic Ocean is actually shifting or changing and not just look at whales but [also at] krill and the oceanographic situation,” Morishita said.

Japan’s whaling fleet last week departed for the southern seas for the first time since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the nation to halt its research whaling in March 2014. The court ruled that Japan’s JARPA II program, which sought to take some 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 humpback whales, was not for the purposes of scientific research as stipulated in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The convention allows countries to kill whales for research.

Japan’s new scientific whale research program in the Antarctic Ocean, unveiled in November 2014, calls for taking 333 minke whales. “We did our best to try to meet the criteria established by the ICJ and we have decided to implement our research plan because we are confident we have completed our scientific homework,” Morishita said.

Morishita pointed to parts of the ICJ ruling that seemed to support Japan’s whaling practices. For example, he cited a paragraph that begins: “The Court finds that the use of lethal sampling per se is not unreasonable in relation to the research objectives of JARPA II.” The paragraph concludes: “In the view of the court, however, the target sample sizes in JARPA II are not reasonable in relation to achieving the program’s objectives.”

Morishita added that the recently departed fleet consists of a mother ship for research, two whale-catching ships, and one sighting vessel. He would not disclose their planned route. 

IWC’s Scientific Committee examined the new program but last June reported that it could not reach consensus on the overall program. However, an appended statement signed by 44 scientists from 18 countries disputed the notion that there is a scientific justification for killing whales.   

Morishita had little to say about a report in The Sydney Morning Herald today that Australia is considering bringing Japan back to the ICJ to halt the whaling program. Japan’s move has also drawn the ire of conservation groups. “We demand that the government respect the international rules and not carry out any new research whaling program,” Greenpeace Japan said in a statement released last week. “This new plan is the same plan that the expert panel of the International Whaling Commission in January concluded did not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling.”