THE BLOG
06/10/2014 02:18 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About Japanese Whaling

In the early 1970s, American marine bio-acoustrian Roger Payne recorded and produced a flexidisc of humpback whale song recorded off the coast of Bermuda. The flexidisc was then given to National Geographic magazine for mass production. The song of the humpback whale reached approximately ten and a half million readers. This marked the beginning of popular awareness of the whale protection movements. In 1972 the whale was made into the symbol of the first UN conference regarding the environment in Stockholm. For the first time, the dwindling whale population had become visible on an international stage.

Japan, a country once known for its capacity for peace and traditional values, has become the villain of the whale protection movement. For 27 years, Japan has been able to operate under a loophole in the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. In 1986 the International Whaling Council's Moratorium came into effect. Back then, the IWC totaled to 15 founding countries, and now there are 89.

In the same year, the Taiji, Japan Whale Festival was founded -- a tiny Japanese fishing village that later attracted infamy from of Ric O'Barry's 2009 exposé The Cove, which filmed illegal dolphin hunting and capturing practices by Taiji fishermen. Recently, Taiji has been sued by Australian animal rights activists who have filed a claim saying that they were banned from the Taiji whale museum because of racial discrimination.

The Cove also captured the violence instigated by the Japanese toward the media and peaceful protesters like Hayden Panetierre and Sea Shepherd representatives. Adding to the scandal, a Dominica representative stated on camera that Japan is paying lower-income countries to vote for the continuation of its "scientific" whaling program.

But according to the Australian Government, this same scientific research program has seen Japan kill upwards of 10,000 whales since the IWC's Moratorium.

The loophole that Japan found to commit these violent acts is via Article VIII from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It states that a contracting government can grant any of its nationals a permit authorizing the killing, seizing, and treating of whales for purposes of scientific research.

Reading the documentation surrounding this statement, it's easy to see how Japan was able to construct such an enterprise; a lot of the statements are convoluted and unclear. Japan's whaling program, JARPA II, has been found guilty of twisting the purpose of this rule with lethal intent. In a 2007 interview cited by Australia's counsel, Japan's expert witness said, "[the first chairman of the IWC] was thinking that the number of whales a country could take for science was less than 10. He didn't intend for hundreds to be killed for this purpose." JARPA II has a killing quota of up to 935 minke whales per annum. The Dodo reported last year that the hunt resulted in 319 whale deaths, while this year it was scaled back a bit to 210.

The courtroom of The Hague sat in silent awe on the morning of Monday, March 31. The International Court of Justice had just ruled that Japan's whaling practices were "unscientific" in practice. This decision was a huge victory for environmental activists and the Australian government, whose push for an examination of Japan's practices made this ruling possible. Japan's chief negotiator at The Hague, Koji Tsuruoka, stated that Japan would abide by the decision of the court.

But less than a month after the ruling, Japan has already sent out whaling boats to the Northern Coast, and filed legal briefs stating their intentions to keep whaling going strong in Antarctica. Four boats, including the Nisshin Maru and Yushin Maru -- from Ayukawa in the Miyagi Prefecture -- left for the annual spring hunt: a period of eight months. Australian Broadcasting Company's Lateline correspondent Matthew Carney reported that the area was hit hard by the 2011 tsunami, so locals welcome the industry. Lateline also filmed part of Japan's whaling campaign lead by Democratic Party representative and member of the House of Councillors, Katsuya Ogawa, who made it clear that there is no intention of halting procedure. "We cannot take a weak attitude and end the traditions of research whaling," Ogawa said. "Let's unite and fight in order to protect whaling culture and its food traditions."

However, Melbourne University professor of Law Dr. Tim Stephens speculated that if Japan did intend to redesign its JARPA II program to continue whaling in the Southern Ocean, there would need to be big changes.

"It would have to be far more robust and transparent in setting out the scientific objectives it is pursuing, and match appropriate and reasonable methods of research to those objectives. In my view this will mean that it could only conduct a very limited program, which may not be worth its while given the significant costs involved," he said.

Japan's inability to cooperate and comply with court orders may seem ridiculous to Westerners, but to the Japanese there is rationale. The Saturday Paper's Sam Vincent said in his article "The Symbolism of Whale Hunting" that most of the reasons given for these practices are directly related to Japanese nationalism. What was originally a provincial tradition seems to have become embraced as a national symbol, after Westerners and outsiders spurred anti-whaling campaigns.

Greenpeace Japan's Executive Director Junichi Sato told The Saturday Paper that, "[he doesn't] want to call it scientific whaling or even commercial whaling: it's more like patriotic whaling. It doesn't really matter how much money they lose, it's just a matter of continuing, or not being willing to stop."

Sea Shepherd USA's Director of Intelligence and Investigations Scott West said, "The Japanese clearly intend to violate the intent, if not the letter, of the World Court's judgment. They are making a mockery of the International Court of Justice and come before the US Courts with very unclean hands. They are the first to cry foul when someone dares to challenge their lies, yet they expect the world to respect the court's decisions that are in their favors. They are poachers and operate without integrity."

Sea Shepherd led by Paul Watson, who left Greenpeace because his own 'direct action' policies jarred with the Greenpeace philosophy of non-violence, is comprised of almost 120 volunteers from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Australia. Their jobs are to sail out and prepare to die for their cause at the hands of the icy Southern Ocean, in addition to the dangerous encounters with fishermen. In February, The Guardian reported that Sea Shepherd rammed into the side of a whaling fleet, tilting it about 40 degrees and making several holes in its hull. This is one of the only non-government organization games that can even approach Japanese territories.

Sea Shepherd media spokesman Adam Burling defended their efforts when he said, "The international laws are there to protect these endangered creatures, and the real issue here is the enforcement of those laws . . . Sea Shepherd has been in the Antarctic for more than twelve years enforcing those international laws against the slaughter of these whales -- not only the endangered Sei whales, but the Minke whales that are supposedly protected by the International Whale Sanctuary. We've been down enforcing the international laws, reducing the kill, and the International Court of Justice proved our action right by declaring the JARPA II Program as being illegal. So, we really need action by governments to stop the whaling."

Burling confirmed that the Japanese plan to kill around 280 whales in the North Pacific this season, however he also touched upon their plans for the future. The Japanese have made an announcement that they're returning to kill in the Southern Ocean in 2015 and 2016. Burling says their plan is to send the four ships before the harpooners, and return with no kills to be able to say that this is part of their new scientific program. "They're pouring tens of millions of dollars into their whaling operations," said Burling. "Their statements are making it very clear that unless there's outside action, Japan will not stop."

The question that is posed to the world now is: how can we enforce these rules effectively, and what is the best course of action to take to stop the killing?

"There needs to be both strong national laws, and also a strong collection of international regimes. In many cases the treaties exist, but they could be strengthened further," Dr. Stephens agreed.

"In essence the Whaling Case has strengthened the whaling treaty because it has significantly reduced the scope of the scientific whaling exception."

Hopefully, this means that there will be a stronger foundation for cases of countries like Australia that are trying to end this murder cycle.

This was certainly not what Roger Payne and his followers had in mind for the future of these gentle giants, and its distortion of the original purpose of Article VIII is irrefutably incorrect. It seems that the only solution is relinquishing support of the Japanese from these small islands, and convincing the Japanese that their ways are erroneous and backwards. However long that will take is undeterminable. Till then, the song of these mythical animals -- that entranced so many people -- will turn to silence.