BREAKING: Japan rumoured to walk out of International Whaling Commission to begin new era of pirate whaling

Humane Society International

  • PilpenkoD/istock

Kyodo News is reporting government sources as saying that Japan is set to announce it is leaving the International Whaling Commission but is considering allowing the continued hunting of whales in nearby seas. Humane Society International’s whale conservation experts say this will usher in a new era of pirate whaling. The news reports suggest that Japan is unlikely to catch whales in the Antarctic Ocean after it pulls out from the IWC.

If reports are confirmed, Humane Society International would welcome the end of whaling in the Southern Ocean, but believes that Japan’s decision to leave the rules-based order of the IWC will place its North Pacific whaling program completely outside the bounds of international law. Humane Society International also fears that Japan may recruit other pro-whaling nations to leave the IWC, leading to a new chapter of widespread and unauthorised killing of whales for profit.

Moreover, in Humane Society International’s view, Japan’s move to leave the IWC defies the letter and spirit of Article 65 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Article 65 underscores the worldwide interest among nations for the conservation of marine mammals in general and cetaceans in particular, and specifies that the IWC is the “appropriate international organization” to oversee conservation, management and study of whales.

Kitty Block, President of Humane Society International says, “If reports are true and Japan does leave the International Whaling Commission but continues killing whales in the North Pacific, it will be operating completely outside the bounds of international law and pursuing the path of a pirate whaling nation with a troubling disregard for international rule. We’re going to continue to press the international community to bring an end to the unjustified persecution of whales for commercial profit wherever it occurs.

“If Japan were to cease all whaling, not just on the high seas, then leaving the IWC would not be objectionable. For the absence of Japan could allow the IWC to finally embrace its conservation mandate by addressing the myriad threats facing cetaceans worldwide. However, as long as Japan kills whales along any coast or any in ocean then it must remain in the international organization with jurisdiction over all great whales.”

Japan’s exit from the IWC would not be entirely unexpected following its political manoeuvres and proposals at the IWC meeting in Brazil last September. There, it explicitly sought to undermine the international ban on commercial whaling. After its proposals were rejected by a majority vote, Japan indicated it might quit the IWC.

This is not the first time that Japan has rejected the authority of an international body when a decision about whaling did not go its way. In 2015, in response to the International Court of Justice finding that Japan’s so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean was neither legal nor scientific, Japan announced that it would take a sweeping exception to the jurisdiction of the ICJ in relation to any dispute concerning “any dispute concerning the living resources of the sea.


  • 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’s North Pacific sei whale hunt was 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: To arrange to speak with an HSI marine/IWC expert please contact Wendy Higgins,, +44 (0)7989 972 423

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