BREAKING: Japan confirms it is leaving the International Whaling Commission ushering in an era of pirate whaling in the North Pacific

Humane Society International / Japan

WASHINGTON—Following media speculation last week, the Government of Japan has now confirmed that it is leaving the International Whaling Commission. It will cease whaling in the Southern Ocean but continue its whaling program in the North Pacific.

By walking out of the IWC, Japan is leaving the international body for whale conservation and the management of whaling. Humane Society International is also concerned that Japan may recruit other pro-whaling nations to leave the IWC, leading to a new chapter of widespread renegade slaughter of whales for profit.

Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International and acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, released the following statement:

“By leaving the IWC but continuing to kill whales in the North Pacific, Japan now becomes a pirate whaling nation killing these ocean leviathans completely outside the bounds of international law. For decades Japan has aggressively pursued a well-funded whaling campaign to upend the global ban on commercial whaling. It has consistently failed but instead of accepting that most nations no longer want to hunt whales, it has now simply walked out.

“The International Convention which gave rise to the IWC was signed here in Washington DC In December 1946. The US is the depository nation and one of the original countries that agreed to conserve whales for future generations. American citizens care deeply about the plight of the world’s whales.

Humane Society International calls on Japan to cease whaling and for other concerned nations to let Japan know that what they propose is unacceptable. At this point in the twenty-first century we need greater international cooperation to help conserve and protect our wild animals and their environment not less.”


  • The IWC was founded in recognition that whaling was driving populations and species to extinction. It was the first international body to try to ensure the sustainable use of living species. Efforts to manage whaling failed and populations continued to crash until the moratorium was agreed in 1982, coming into force in 1986.
  • Many ex-whaling nations including the USA, UK and Argentina are member nations of the IWC as are the three nations that continue to whale for profit – Japan, Norway and Iceland.
  • Japan has long categorized its whaling activity as ‘scientific research’, hiding behind a clause in the IWC founding treaty (Article VIII), which allows IWC member nations to kill whales for research (a lethal approach superseded by modern non-lethal techniques).
  • The legitimacy of Japan’s use of the ‘scientific whaling clause’ was recently been tested in the International Court of Justice, in a case brought by Australia about Japan’s Antarctic whaling. This multinational court found against Japan in its 2014 verdict and it was ordered to desist.
  • Japan stopped whaling in the Southern Ocean for just one season, but then it returned with what it categorized as a brand-new research program claiming it met the court’s concerns.
  • HSI regards the resumed hunt in Antarctica (presently ongoing and targeting a self-allocated quota of 333 minke whales) and the North Pacific hunt (which kills minke and sei whales) as commercial whaling. Japan is not therefore ‘resuming’ commercial whaling because it never stopped, at best it is moving the focus of its activities to the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The import of meat from Japan’s North Pacific sei whale hunt was recently found to be in contravention of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and Japan was instructed to explain in the New Year how it means to address this.


Media contact: Rodi Rosensweig, 203-270-8929,

Background Notes

At the last meeting of the IWC, in Brazil in September, Japan brought forward a series of linked-proposals that would have undermined the moratorium. This bundle of proposals was voted down, which was predictable. Japan reacted angrily and threatened to leave the IWC. The fact that it did not do it there are then may reflect the fact that other important international negotiations like its new trade deal with the USA have been in discussion.

Japan is the biggest financial contributor to the work of the IWC, which is predominantly funded by the membership fees of its member nations. So, Japan’s departure will probably create some budgetary issues but the IWC has 88 other members, so this will not cause the IWC to fail.

Over the last ten years or so the IWC has been busy modernizing and has developed an important body of work focused on non-whaling threats to whales including climate change and bycatch (incidental captures in fishing nets). It is important for the future of the whales and other cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) that this body of work continues.

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