Activists ask leaders at G20 to urge Japan to uphold commercial whaling ban

What can stop Japan's 'gruesome' whale hunting program?

As Japan prepares to relaunch its commercial whaling practices, environmentalists have called for leaders at the G20 summit to speak up. Japan stopped commercial whaling more than 30 years ago.

Celebrities Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais and scientist Jane Goodall are among more than 100 activists and conservation charities calling for leaders to use the G20 Summit to confront host Japan over its plans to continue commercial whaling.

Letters have been sent to all G20 leaders, urging them to stage an “international whaling intervention” at the summit and push for an end to all commercial whaling, a group statement said.

The plea comes ahead of Japan’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Sunday before it resumes commercial whaling on Monday after more than 30 years.

Japan continued to conduct whaling for its controversial scientific research program, but many whaling opponents questioned the program’s supposed scientific credentials.

Withdrawal from IWC ‘renegade’

“This week, while one part of the Japanese government is proudly facilitating international cooperation by hosting the G20 meeting, another is quietly extricating itself from the obligation for global collaboration on the protection and management of the world’s whales,” said Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International, in the group statement.

“Japan leaving the IWC and defying international law to pursue its commercial whaling ambitions is renegade, retrograde and myopic,” Block said.

Hunt quota unknown

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is among those in Japan who have long pushed to resume commercial whaling.

Tokyo claims that many whale species are not endangered and argues that eating whale is a cherished cultural tradition. It has said it will stop the Antarctic research whaling that killed some 330 minke whales a year, but will hunt minkes, sei whales and Bryde’s whales in its exclusive economic zone. The hunt quota has not yet been announced.

Consumption of whale peaked in the early 1960s and has been diminishing ever since. Barely 300 people are directly connected to whaling, and whale represented only about 0.1% of Japan’s total meat consumption in 2016.

Whales are killed with grenade harpoons

Whales are killed on commercial hunts by a variety of methods.

Whales are killed on commercial hunts by a variety of methods.

Because they are so huge (minkes are 11m or 36 ft long but adult sperm whales can be as large as 20m long ) they are difficult to kill.

Harpoons with grenades are sometimes used.

These explode inside the whale and sometimes do not kill instantaneously. Sir David Attenborough has said in the past that “there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea”.

Whales are protected

A humpback whale

Image captionA humpback whale

The International Whaling Commission was set up to protect whales in 1947. It has banned commercial whaling since 1987, although countries can have “scientific permits” issued to allow them to hunt whales, or they can legally object to the ban, like Norway has.

Japan hasn’t objected, but claims hunting in the Antarctic allows them to gather scientific information about minke whales. The IWC grants permits to indigenous groups to allow them to hunt whales for food – but not to sell on.

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