In the name of ‘scientific research’, Japan has killed 333 minke whales, including over 200 pregnant females, in the Antarctic in 2015-16 whaling season, according to the country’s Institute for Cetacean Research.
A fleet of four ships returned on March 23, from their 115-day expedition to conduct ‘scientific’ whaling activities which is a blatant disregard of the ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2014 that challenged the scientific legitimacy of the program, reports National Geographic.
Commercial whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Commission since 1986. However, an exemption for scientific research still remains, which Japan has long been accused of using as a cover for commercial whaling activities.
When a Japanese ship lands a whale, there is some semblance of scientific activity, including collecting organs for use in research. But the bulk of the whale goes to market where it is sold for consumption, Leah Gerber, a marine mammal biologist, told National Geographic in 2014.
Japan had halted its whaling activities briefly following the international court ruling, only to begin again in the 2015-16 season, revising its program to be more scientific and lowering its quota of whales by about two-thirds.
However, many scientists criticized the new plan, and the International Whaling Commission is yet to reach a consensus on whether the plan met the requirements.
Moreover, the quota reduction looked good on paper but hardly made any difference. Previously, Japan used to kill 200-400 Antarctic minke whales each year, and this year’s 333 does not look any different, said Astrid Fuchs, the whaling program manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a nonprofit organization.
To add to that, Japan’s whaling activities largely target female minke whales, capturing and killing adult and juvenile females in order to determine the age for them to reach sexual maturity, a data it intends to use to demonstrate that minke whale population is healthy enough for regular whaling, Fuchs also said.
Japan conducted its whaling activities when it is the breeding time in the Antarctic, and as a consequence almost 90 percent of the female whales killed in the program were pregnant.
Although the conservation status of Antarctic minke whales is unclear at present, however, some analyses have found a 60 percent reduction in the population when comparing the 1978–91 and the 1991–2004 periods, which would qualify the species for endangered status.