Australia censures Japan for ‘scientific’ whaling

Australia has asked the international court of justice to withdraw all permits for future whale hunts from the Japanese fleet. The Guardian reports

Japan is using scientific research as an excuse to conduct commercial whaling in defiance of an international ban, Australia said on Wednesday at the start of a landmark legal bid to put a permanent end to the annual slaughter of almost 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean.


Australia, with the support of New Zealand, has asked the International Court of Justice to withdraw all permits for future whale hunts from the Japanese fleet.


The hearings in the Hague will last three weeks and a decision is expected before the end of the year, possibly in time to halt Japan’s next whaling expedition. The decision by the top UN court will be final, as there is no appeals process. Japan is expected to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, but details of that challenge have yet to be disclosed.


“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” Australia’s agent to the court, Bill Campbell, told the 16-judge panel.


Opponents of Japan’s Antarctic whale hunts say research into theanimals‘ migratory, reproductive and other habits can be conducted without killing them.


Japan, however, claims that lethal research is necessary to acquire the data needed to re-examine the International Whaling Commission’s ban and possibly return to sustainable commercial whaling.


It uses a provision in the IWC’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling to kill more than 900 minke whales every winter, although recent hauls have been far smaller following clashes with the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.


Meat from the Antarctic hunts is sold legally in Japanese shops and restaurants – a practice that campaigners say proves the research hunts are a cover for commercial whaling.


“You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research,” Campbell told journalists.


Australia’s solicitor-general, Justin Gleeson, told the judges: “No other nation, before or since, has found the need to engage in lethal scientific research on anything like this scale.”


Japan, which will launch its defence next week, insists that it is abiding by the terms of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.


“Japan’s research programs have been legally conducted for the purposes of scientific research, in accordance with the [convention],” Japan’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, Koji Tsuruoka, said outside the courtroom. “Australia’s claim is invalid. Japan’s research whaling has been conducted for scientific research in accordance with international law.”


Campbell said that if all signatories to the convention killed as many minke whales as Japan does, then more than 83,000 would be slaughtered in the Southern Ocean every year. That would be “catastrophic” for whale populations, he told the court.


Campaigners applauded Australia’s unprecedented legal action, which has been more than three years in the making.


“Japan’s whaling subverts international will to protect these animals from commercial slaughter,” said Kitty Block, vice president of the Humane Society International.


“Whaling under the guise of the scientific exemption to the moratorium is an abuse of rights and a breach of conservation obligations as Japan is a member of the International Whaling Commission.”


Wendy Elliot, of WWF International’s species programme, said: “WWF is fully opposed to so-called scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean, one of the most important areas for whales on this planet, and the site of previous relentless and devastating slaughters, from which most Southern Ocean whales are still far from recovered.”


“WWF commends the Australian government for taking this case to the international court of justice, and hopes that it heralds the end of whaling in the Southern Ocean.”


Australian officials say Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales since the IWC ban went into effect.


WHALING : Campaigns on multiple fronts against hunting

Whaling brings to mind visions of the 19th century. Harpoons into blubber. Captain Ahab versus Moby-Dick. The International Whaling Commission used to be a whalers’ club, but now is focused increasingly on new conservation measures. The International Herald Tribune reports

But in some parts of the world, whaling remains very much alive, despite a world moratorium on commercial whaling that took effect in 1986. In 2011, more than 1,500 whales were hunted and killed, according to figures compiled from the Web site of the International Whaling Commission, an intergovernmental body. That represents a decline from 2008, when more than 1,900 were killed.

Controversy about the practice continues. The International Court of Justice, a U.N. court based in The Hague, is considering a challenge by Australia against the whaling practices of Japan, which killed 540 whales in 2011, according to the commission.

“Australia has a very difficult case to make,” said Cymie R. Payne, an assistant professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey who specializes in international and environmental law. However, she said, the court could side with Australia and order Japan to cease whaling.

Concerned about the over-hunting of whales, fifteen nations came together in 1946 to sign a treaty aimed at conserving the whale population. The treaty created an oversight body, the International Whaling Commission. In the 1980s, after public outcry against whaling intensified, members of the commission imposed a moratorium that allowed no commercial hunting of the animals. Some nations oppose the moratorium and have exercised what they consider their right to continue whaling.

Norway caught 533 whales for commercial purposes in 2011, and Iceland took 58, according to the commission. (Some of the 2011 numbers run roughly from spring 2011 to spring 2012; more recent figures were not available.) Hunters from aboriginal groups in Greenland, the United States, Russia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines collectively took 384 whales in 2011.

The nation that has hunted the most whales in recent years is Japan. It does so under a scientific exemption, saying that the whale hunts are for research purposes. But the whale meat is sold to consumers — officially, as a byproduct of the research. Environmentalists charge that the Japanese whaling program relies on heavy subsidies.

“The fact is that more than half a million Antarctic minke whales can easily support an annual harvest,” Yoshihiro Fujise, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, which conducts Japan’s Antarctic whaling program, said in a statement last year. Minke are the type that Japan mostly hunts.

The International Whaling Commission’s most recent estimate, published in 2012, shows that there were about 515,000 minke whales in Antarctic waters in the period between 1992 and 2004.

Tensions over Japan’s whaling practices have existed for years. An anti-whaling group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, regularly pursues Japanese whaling boats, igniting confrontations on the high seas. Japan has complained bitterly about these tactics. Recently, a three-judge panel of a U.S. court in San Francisco took its side.

In a dramatically worded ruling in February, the chief judge, Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, wrote: “You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

The Institute of Cetacean Research hailed the ruling, which enables a lawsuit brought against Sea Shepherd by the Japanese whalers to move forward.

Sea Shepherd, which is based in the United States, is seeking to have a larger, 11-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit review the case. The group also recently filed suit in the Netherlands, where some of its ships are registered, accusing the Japanese whalers of violent tactics.

The legal battle taking place at the International Court of Justice is not as animated but is potentially more significant. In 2010, Australia sued Japan over its whaling in Antarctic waters, saying it had breached its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the 1946 agreement. This year, New Zealand was allowed to join the case on Australia’s side.

Written arguments concluded about a year ago. Oral proceedings could start this year, although it is unlikely that a final decision will come before next spring at the earliest, according to Ms. Payne, the Rutgers professor.

The International Court of Justice case “hopefully will close legal loopholes in the Whaling Convention,” Peter H. Sand, who teaches international environmental law at the University of Munich, said in an e-mail. Mr. Sand is a former secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, also known as Cites, a group that oversees a multinational treaty.

Politics overlay the courtroom battles. “These are countries that interact with each other on a lot of different issues, and they don’t want this to become something that is going to harm their other political and commercial relationships,” Ms. Payne said.

In a blog post on The New York Times Web site this year, Jun Morikawa, a professor of international relations at Rakuno Gakuen University in Sapporo, Japan, cited a “slight — very slight — possibility” that the Japanese government could move to end research whaling to strengthen relations with anti-whaling powers like the United States and the European Union, as well as Australia.

“Because the general public in Japan does not consider whaling a major issue,” he wrote, “a drastic shift in whaling policy could be a cheap, safe and a fairly effective bargaining chip.”

Meanwhile, the International Whaling Commission, which decades ago was considered something of a whalers’ club, is focused increasingly on new conservation measures. Some whale species are thriving, but others are not. Simon Brockington, the commission’s executive secretary, said that for whales, “being caught in nets or being run over by ships is perhaps as great a source of mortality” as the hunting. A whale entangled in a net can take months to die, he said.

The International Whaling Commission is working to remedy some of these problems, like researching pollution issues and rerouting shipping lanes in areas with heavy whale populations to avoid ship strikes, Mr. Brockington said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 3, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Simon Brockington. He is executive secretary of the International Whaling Commission, not executive director.

Whaling Update : Japan urged to recall fleet and abandon dying whale meat industry

Image via Wikipedia

Japan is being urged to recall its whaling fleet which has just left port for Antarctic. Wildlife Extra and IFAW report |!/LearnFromNature

BARBARIC: The Japanese whaling operation

According to Japanese media reports, the country’s whaling fleet is en route to the pristine Southern Ocean Sanctuary to kill up to 935 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales, in defiance of global opposition and several international laws.

‘This industry is dying’
Japan is believed to have provided around US$30 million in additional government security budget to protect the fleet this season. Japan hunts whales in the seas surrounding Antarctica under the loophole of “scientific whaling” despite the worldwide ban on commercial whaling.

Robbie Marsland, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW UK) said: ‘We are disappointed although not surprised that Japan’s whaling fleet has once more set sail for Antarctica to slaughter more whales. The reality, though, is that the whaling industry is dying and this is its last gasp. The economics show that whaling is unprofitable and a bad policy for the Japanese people as well as for whales.’

Whales take more than half an hour to die
IFAW opposes whaling because it is cruel and unnecessary; there is simply no humane way to kill a whale. Footage of Japanese whaling analysed by IFAW scientists has shown whales can take more than half an hour to die.

While whaling is uneconomic, whale-watching offers a humane and profitable alternative to the cruelty of whaling, generating around US$2.1 billion annually for coastal communities.

According to recent media reports the Australian Customs ship Ocean Protector, docked in Hobart, may be preparing to sail to the Southern Ocean to monitor the whaling season.

During the last season of Southern Ocean whaling, the Japanese fleet headed back to port early with less than half of its self-allocated catch quota following pressure from many fronts.

Japan Whaling : Antarctic whale hunt won’t be canceled

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Image via Wikipedia

Antarctic whale hunt won’t be canceled

From Associated Press

The annual Antarctic whale hunt will be carried out later this year under heightened security to fend off activists who have vowed to disrupt the cull, the fisheries minister.



The nation’s whale hunts have become increasingly tense in recent years because of clashes with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The most recent expedition was cut short after several high-seas confrontations, and it was unclear if this year’s hunt would come about.

But fisheries minister Michihiko Kano said measures would be taken to ensure the whalers’ safety, and the hunt, expected to begin in December, will go ahead. “We intend to carry out the research (whaling) after enhancing measures to assure that it is not obstructed,” he said.

Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986, but Japan conducts whale hunts in the Antarctic and Northwest Pacific under an exception that allows limited kills for research purposes.

The government claims the research is needed to provide data on whale populations so the international ban on commercial whaling can be re-examined — and, Japan hopes, lifted — based on scientific studies.

Opponents say the program is a guise for keeping Japan’s dwindling whaling industry alive. Sea Shepherd, which is already rallying to block the hunt, has been particularly dogged in its efforts to stop the kills.

Last year’s season was marred by repeated incidents with Sea Shepherd vessels, one of which sank after a Japanese whaling ship chopped off its bow. The boat’s captain, New Zealander Peter Bethune, was later arrested when he boarded the whaling ship from a jet ski, and brought back to Japan for trial.

He was convicted of assault, vandalism and three other charges and given a suspended prison term. Bethune has since returned to New Zealand.

Sea Shepherd recently announced it is calling its effort to obstruct the December hunt “Operation Divine Wind” — a reference to the kamikaze suicide missions carried out by the Japanese military in World War II.

Though vilified by antiwhaling organizations around the world, the government’s strong prowhaling position has the support of the Japanese public, according to an AP poll conducted in July and August.

Fifty-two percent favor it, 35 percent are neutral and 13 percent are opposed, the poll found.

Once common in school lunches, whale meat can be found in stores and restaurants in Japan. But, because of its relatively high price, it is generally regarded as a gourmet food by the public.

Are Africa’s seas getting protection they deserve, finally?

South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve

The Independent/AFP

Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (, in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.

Marine Reserves in UK

South African Biodiversity Inst

Japan to rally pro-whaling nations for ending ban

Japan is inviting pro-whaling nations to a meeting aimed at building support for lifting a decades-old ban on commercial whale hunts, the country’s fisheries agency said today.

  After failing to get the ban lifted at this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission, Japan is hoping about 40 pro-whaling nations will attend the event it plans in the southern port of Shimonoseki — a traditional whaling hub — in November.

 The meeting is intended to build solidarity among pro-whaling nations in support of “sustainable use” and to strengthen the lobby against the ban on commercial whaling in place since 1986, the fisheries agency said in a statement.

 Japan has long been one of the strongest opponents of the ban and lobbied at the IWC meeting in June for the moratorium to be suspended for 10 years.

 That effort failed amid intense opposition from anti-whaling members and environmental groups who wanted whaling nations to agree to gradually phase out all catches.

 Japan, Norway and Iceland harvest whales annually under the ban’s various exemptions. Norway’s IWC commissioner, Karsten Klepsvik, said the zero-catch demand was “an impossible situation.”

 Conservation groups estimate 1.5 million whales were killed in the 20th century.

 Friction within the IWC has led Japan to repeatedly threaten to quit the body, which Japan says ignores scientific data suggesting that limited takes of some more plentiful whale species would cause no significant threat to their populations.

 Japan hunts whales along its coastal waters and in the Antarctic under the research exemption to the ban. Critics say the scientific hunts are a cover for commercial whaling because the meat gleaned from the killed whales often ends up in restaurants or stores.

 Opponents of Japan’s whaling policy also allege the country has used its economic clout to unjustly woo votes in the IWC from countries that have no real stake in whaling. Japan has strongly denied that claim.

World Oceans Day ‘celebrates’ with …. an oilspill!?

World Oceans Day is June 8

Whlist growing up in my native New Zealand, never all that far from the coast and beaches, I enjoyed the times I was ‘beside the sea’ but tried not to take it for granted.

In time, I became involved in helping to run Seaweek activities for children and families , with the resulting buzz of seeing these children gaining a very real and tangible benefit from being outdoors. I also helped set up the first marine reserve  near Wellington, the capital city. All of these experiences were based on my long-time voluntary efforts with the ‘Forest and Bird’ New Zealand’s largest independent conservatioon group  

See full size image

Having travelled to the United Kingdom, and enroute visiting Italy, France and most recently Croatia, I again had a renewed awareness of how much these countries rely on, benefit on but I wonder if they take for granted (?), their coasts, wildlife and all of the incumbent natural resources.

Our fish stocks are being depleted, with Marine Conservation Society suggestions regarding sustainable fish

The whaling ban is in jeapordy

The current oil spill in the Bay of Mexico only serves to illustrate how much we – or at least industry and government (?) – are willing and able to risk these finite natural resources. The images of wildlife covered in oil and Barak Obama with Tar balls on the beaches is the visual ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Nature is resilent – the latest reports of islands thought to be sinking, actually doing the complete opposite – but we humans are consistently battling with Nature for more and more resources, due to an ever-expanding population, and the seas and oceans are hsowing the strain! 

Is it really ‘all up’ to the future generations or can we not start, here and now, to make that difference?