The Japanese government will resume whaling in the Antarctic early next year despite a ruling that ordered Japan to stop the controversial practice.
The government said it took into account the ruling, saying the new “scientific” whaling program will be smaller than previous iterations. The International Court of Justice ruled in March 2014 that Japan’s decades-old whale hunt in the Antarctic should be put to an end, prompting Tokyo to cancel the majority of its whaling this season.
But the Japanese Fisheries Agency on Nov. 27 said it will resume whaling, and it plans to catch 333 Antarctic minke whales annually over a 12-year period, reported Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
In November 2014, Japan submitted a plan to the International Whaling Commission to resume whaling, saying that only minke whales will be targeted. In the past, Japanese vessels caught Humpback whales as well as the more common minke species.
The U.K. and Australian governments, as well as environmental groups, have condemned the announcement.
“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research’,” said Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
According to Asahi, Japanese researchers are going to study “only the skin” of the whales that aren’t killed. However, the newspaper report makes clear that Japan’s Fisheries Agency is seeking the eventual resumption of commercial whaling.
Japan will begin whaling again in March 2016, but the whaling ships might leave for the Antarctic before the end of 2015.
Militant animal rights group Sea Shepherd said it would again take action against Japanese whaling ships, as it had in the past.
“The pristine waters of the Southern Ocean are once again under threat from poachers,” Sea Shepherd chief executive Alex Cornelissen said in a news release after Japan made the announcement.
“We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd. As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act.”
The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin is currently docked in Melbourne, Australia, undergoing preparations to target toolfish operations in the Antarctic.
“Sea Shepherd is an anti-poaching organization. We are ready to find, document, report on and where possible intervene against poaching operations that threaten the precious balance of life in the Southern Ocean; whatever form those poachers might take, whatever life they threaten,” said Cornelissen. “If Sea Shepherd comes across criminal activity, then our history speaks for itself. We will, as always, directly intervene to prevent that crime from taking place,” he added.
The group called on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to take action to ensure Japan’s whaling ships don’t depart from the country.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said Japan’s new program would kill nearly 4,000 whales over the next 12 years in an expanded Antarctic zone.
In 2014, Japan caught around 200 whales via the program.