The United States has asked Japan to end its program of lethal “scientific” whaling. The request comes shortly before Japan is expected to unveil a proposed program for hunting hundreds more whales in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.
Japan hopes to increase its take of minke whales from 440 to 850 a year and to add 50 each of humpback and fin whales to its self-imposed quotas. Japan added sperm, sei, and Bryde’s whales to its whaling program in 2002.
Ministers and commissioners from more than 60 countries will discuss this and other aspects of whale management at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, June 20 to 24.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reiterated their opposition to lethal research on whales and said Japan’s research whaling raises questions of scientific validity.
U.S. officials believe scientific data can be collected through non-lethal means. They are concerned that taking whales from stocks that may be depleted could retard or preclude recovery of those stocks.
U.S. officials also voiced concern that an expansion of Japan’s lethal “research program” in the Southern Ocean will hinder discussion and progress on other important issues at the IWC meeting.
Japan began taking whales for what it describes as research purposes in 1987, and conducts such programs in the Southern Ocean and in the North Pacific Ocean.
Japan unilaterally issues itself an annual quota of more than 800 whales, including minke, sei, Bryde’s and sperm whales. Whale meat from the research hunts is sold in the Japanese marketplace.
NOAA is the scientific research and whale management agency within the United States government, and as such is the lead federal agency at International Whaling Commission meetings.
Other nations such as Australia and New Zealand also oppose Japan’s whaling research. Australian Prime Minister John Howard wrote a letter to his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi in May asking Japan to cease its lethal scientific whaling program.