Outrage as defiant Japanese whaling fleet returns to port from the Southern Ocean with meat from 333 minke whales

Humane Society International, Humane Society Legislative Fund and U.S. Congressional Resolution call for an end to the killing

Humane Society International

  • Cunningham/Greenpeace

As Japan’s whaling fleet docked today in Shimonoseki, Japan, on its return from its controversial ‘scientific whaling’ in the waters around Antarctica, Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund called for an end to the cruelty of harpooning whales. Members of the U.S. Congress are also set to condemn the killing, with a resolution due to be introduced calling for an end to Japanese whaling.

The four-vessel fleet consists of the 8,145-ton Nisshin Maru (the world’s only whaling factory ship) and three smaller ‘catcher vessels’ used primarily to chase and kill the whales. The holds of the vessels contain meat and blubber stripped from the bodies of 333 minke whales frozen and pre-packed for sale in the Japanese marketplace.  This number of minke whales taken is the full quota that Japan issued to itself in the multi-year whaling programme that it named NEWREPA. This whaling programme started in 2015 and is set to run for 12 successive years – making a total kill of almost 4,000 of these small baleen whales.

Whales are the largest animals on the planet and there is no humane way to kill them – whalers on a moving ship, in a moving sea, attempting to hit a moving target, chase down the animals with an explosive-tipped harpoon that explodes inside the animals and sinks barbs into their flesh. Most whales do not die instantaneously and may take considerable time to die, after being subjected to more harpoons or peppered with rifle fire. 

Kitty Block, executive vice president of HSI, said: “Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed. It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end. There is no robust scientific case for slaughtering whales. Commercial whaling in this or any other disguise does not meet any pressing human needs and should be relegated to the annals of history.”  

While Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which founded the International Whaling Commission, allows for member nations like Japan to kill whales for scientific investigations, it is widely accepted that Japan’s science is only a pretext for an ongoing commercial hunt, an activity banned by the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling agreed in 1982. Despite this ban, Japan has killed more than 15,000 whales since 1982, finding itself at the centre of global criticism that has included:

  • A damning court case at the International Court of Justice which told Japan to desist;
  • Various formal international rebukes, including most recently a formal statement of concern from all EU nations issued in January 2017 and being certified four times under the U.S. Pelly Amendment for diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC’s conservation measures and
  • Consistent scientific criticism of the “research” associated with the whale killing.

The most recent initiative to push back against Japan’s inhumane and unscientific whale hunts is a resolution to be introduced in the U.S. Congress by Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz. The resolution urges Japan to cease all whaling and affirms the commitment of the U.S. government to protect whales. The resolution further stresses that methods used to kill whales can cause these animals to suffer tremendously and that international cooperation is necessary to successfully conserve and protect whales.

Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “For far too long, Japan has circumvented the ban on commercial whaling and when the suffering and death of so many whales is at stake, that status quo can’t be tolerated. There remains no justification whatsoever for these hunts.” 

Media contacts:

HSI (United Kingdom): Wendy Higgins: whiggins@hsi.org, +44 (0)7989 972 423
HSI/HSLF (Washington DC, USA): Raul Arce-Contreras: rcontreras@humanesociety.org, + 1 240.620.3263 


The EU Statement about Japanese whaling of January 17th 2017 (published on the IWC website here) raises various concerns and concludes ‘The EU member states of the ICRW strongly request that the Government of Japan cancels the Special Permits it has issued to conduct whaling under NEWREP-A’. Special Permits are the documents that describe the self-allocated quota.

In March 2014, the ICJ rejected Japan’s claim that its whaling programme in Antarctica (Southern Ocean) was for scientific purposes and ordered an immediate halt to the program. Japan initially indicated that it would obey the ruling, but then announced it would resume whaling in the Southern Ocean with a new whaling programme that – in its view – would take into account the detail of the ICJ’s ruling.

At the 2014 meeting of the IWC, the Commission called on Japan not to launch any new special permit whaling until the IWC had had the opportunity to review the new proposal. However, Japan ignored this and duly developed its new scientific whaling programme –NEWREP-A. In February 2015, an independent expert panel of the IWC found that Japan had not made its case for killing whales for science.

In May 2015, Japan presented NEWREP-A to the IWC’s full Scientific Committee which includes scientists working for the Japanese Government. Inevitably, it returned a mixed verdict. That said, many scientists agreed with the key finding of the IWC’s independent panel, reaffirming the view that Japan’s argument for killing whales on scientific grounds was weak.

In October 2015, Japan made a declaration to the United Nations that it would no longer be bound by ICJ jurisdiction regarding living marine resources. This allows Japan to sidestep the ruling or any future rulings of the UN’s highest court just after the country had been given a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

On Friday 27th November 2015, Japan quietly issued notice to IWC member nations that it would implement NEWREP-A and return to whale killing in the Southern Ocean, and in December 2015, the Japanese whaling fleet resumed whaling in Antarctica, killing its full self-allocated quota of 333 minke whales. (This is in addition to its ongoing whaling in the North Pacific where it killed an additional 90 sei whales, 25 Bryde’s whales, 70 minke whales).