Climate change is the latest accomplice to whale hunting: as temperatures rise and sea ice melts, it opens more paths for people to find and kill whales.
This summer marked the first time that an Icelandic whaling vessel was able to travel through the Arctic’s Northeast Passage and hunt endangered fin whales. Near record-low numbers of sea ice opened the passageway, which is not normally accessible to larger vessels.
Ignoring an international ban on hunting these endangered whales, the vessel carried 1,800 tons of frozen fin whale meat to sell in Japan. It left Tromso, Norway on August 1 and arrived in Osaka, Japan later that month with almost 40% of the whale meat the entire country consumes annually in just one shipment.
This is a detrimental in several ways. First, a northern route will allow whaling vessels a shorter path to Japan, their main buyer. Second, it raises concerns for activist groups like Sea Shepherd who focus mostly in the Indian and Southern Oceans and can’t expand north.
Japan says it will resume whaling in the Antarctic in the 2015 winter season, defying the the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which stated that Tokyo has not proven the mammals need to be killed for research.
In a report in June, the IWC’s scientific committee concluded that it could not determine whether lethal sampling was necessary for Japanese whale stock management and conservation.
Japanese officials said they will submit additional data to support their argument, but still plan to resume whaling in the Antarctic in winter. Tokyo proposed a revised plan to catch 333 minke whales each year between 2015 and 2027, which is around one-third its previous target.
The IWC made a similar indeterminate conclusion in April when Japan revised its Antarctic whaling plan in response to the international court of justice 2014 ruling that the hunts were not truly scientific. As a result of the ruling, Japan sent a non-lethal expedition to the Antarctic for the 2014 season.
In 1986, the IWC banned commercial whaling but Japan continued hunting the animals under a research exemption. The country’s government has spent large amounts of tax money to continue whale hunting operations. In recent years, however, Japan’s actual catch has decreased in part due to a drop in domestic demand for whale meat and protests by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.