Japan will officially withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), with the intention to resume commercial whaling in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in July 2019. Japan will also cease whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean and hunt species with so-called "healthy" population numbers. Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium. But Japan has used a loophole to continue hunting whales legally since 1987 for what it claims is scientific research. So the international agreement never stopped Japanese whaling, because it allowed the country to continue killing whales for scientific research while selling the meat. Iceland and Norway object to the moratorium and continue to hunt whales commercially without relying on science as an excuse.

Over the years, large-scale commercial whaling has depleted a number of whale populations to a significant extent, resulting in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issuing a moratorium on whaling in 1986. The moratorium advocates a ban on whale hunting but tolerates indigenous and scientific hunting. World-wide attitudes toward whaling shifted gradually from economic necessity and widespread acceptance to moral censure. The debate has centred on the appropriateness of a global ban. Strong opposition is given by communities in Japan, Norway and Iceland, three countries still supporting whaling. The reputed recovery of some whale populations has been put forward as their argument for resuming limited commercial whaling. Japan intends to held up a sustainable whaling policy by whaling non-extinctive whale species only, such as Bryde whales and Sei whales. Japan has argued that whaling has been part of Japanese culture for centuries.
In 2010 Australia, a former whaling country, brought the suit against Japan, accusing the country of using a loophole to get around a 1986 worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling. Despite the moratorium, Japan has captured and killed more than 10,000 whales in what Tokyo describes as efforts to collect data to monitor the impact of whales on Japan’s fishing industry and to study the health and habitat of the whale population.  On 31 May 2010 proceedings were instituted at the International Court of Justice in The Hague by Australia, which accused Japan of pursuing “a large-scale program of whaling under the Second Phase of its Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (‘JARPA II’)”, in breach of obligations assumed by Japan under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and of other international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and the marine environment. On 31 March 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled, inter alia, that Japan had indeed breached some of the provisions invoked (namely the moratoriums on commercial whaling and factory ships, and the prohibition on commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary).

The ICJ-ruling drew praise from environmental groups, including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sent ships to the remote and icy waters to block and harass Japan’s whaling fleet. “We are very happy with the backing of the International Court,” Geert Vons, a representative of Sea Shepherd, said after leaving the courtroom. “We had never expected such a strong ruling.” From 2005 to 2017, Sea Shepherd used its own ships to try to interfere with Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic. As the Japanese news media reported last month that a withdrawal from the whaling commission was being considered, Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd’s founder, said in a statement that he considered it good news. He said it would end Japan’s activities in the Antarctic while making Sea Shepherd’s “objective of shutting down these poachers much easier. This means that Japan is now openly declaring their illegal whaling activities. No more pretense of research whaling. With this announcement, Japan has declared themselves as a pirate whaling nation.”

Sam Annesley, Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan, condemned the government’s decision and said: “It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is. The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling."

Despite leaving the International Whaling Commission, Japan will still be bound by certain international laws. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) binds countries to co-operate on the conservation of whales "through the appropriate international organisations for their conservation, management and study". The text does not say which international organisation that is.

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