Well it didn't take too long for something major to happen to bring me back to whales huh? Over the course of the last couple weeks, news stories have been flying around that Japan was looking to leave the International Whaling Commission and resume the practice of commercial whaling. Japan had threatened to leave the IWC multiple times in the past, but never did. As of this morning however, Japan has officially left the IWC. What does this all mean and why did it finally happen though?
The why is much easier that the what does it mean. The straw that broke the camels back sort to speak could easily be found as recently as this past September. Japan had brought forward a proposal to reinstate commercial whaling. The IWC rejected the proposal and came to the conclusion that whaling was no longer a valid economic activity.It also effectively slammed the door on Japan's long standing loophole by stating that whaling was no longer needed for scientific research. Japan has been hunting whales since 1987 under the guise of scientific research. It was just a few short years ago that the research they were doing was nothing more than commercial whaling. With September's resolutions the loophole was finally tied shut and Japan, left with nowhere to go has now left the IWC. Japan continues to claim that it needs to whale for protein and various other things the whales are used for. So with the why out of the way, the question that we will have to wait and see to be fully answered is what does this all mean.
The easy answer is that this means Japan will begin commercial whaling within it's economic zones and territories in 2019. This also means that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary where Japan has been whaling under the guise of research is finally, finally safe from the Japanese whaling fleet. Japan will not be going to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary anymore as it would be illegal to kill whales there for commercial purposes (yes it was always commercial, but that's politics for ya). Those are the two sure things that we know. We also know that Japan already was hunting whales for "research" in their waters every year as well. What we don't know is how all in Japan may or may not go with this. Will they increase their quotas to make up for the numbers they won't be getting in the Southern Ocean? Will the popularity of whaling and eating whale within Japan continue to decline? Will the whale populations in the North Pacific be sustainable with Japan becoming more focused in the area? With Japan leaving the IWC, will small countries whose votes were previously bought out by Japan change their tune on whale conservation? Will Japan return to the IWC at some point? These are all harder to answer questions that only time will tell us.
The biggest takeaway here is that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now an actual whale sanctuary and not just named one. Whales are now free to swim there with no fear of industry slaughtering hundreds of them. The Whale Wars that raged between conservation groups like Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace has finally come to an end in the Southern Ocean. While there had been no physical confrontations over the past couple years due to the Japanese whaling fleet getting some serious tech upgrades and military involvement, the pressure had continued to be poured on and the setbacks for the fleet never really ended. Today we should all celebrate this small victory for the whales in the Southern Ocean. It is not often that we have something like this to celebrate so as we head to 2019, let's raise a glass to the IWC for rejecting Japan's proposal and effectively ending whaling in the Southern Ocean!