Four Japanese ships returned from a 115-day Antarctic expedition this week on which they killed 333 minke whales, including 230 pregnant females, all under the auspices of scientific research. But according to National Geographic, the whaling expedition violated a 2014 ruling from UN International Court of Justice challenging the scientific legitimacy of such hunts and halting all Japanese whaling. Prior to that, since commercial whaling was banned in 1986, Japan had been skirting the ban by taking advantage of a scientific exemption which allows whales to be killed if it’s done for research, which for the Japanese meant using a little bit of a whale for science and then selling off the rest, which just so happens to be a Japanese delicacy. Japan had then briefly halted their scientific whaling following the 2014 ruling, only to start up again this season after attempting to bolster the scientific value of their expedition and supposedly reduce the number of whales they would kill, although they apparently just went ahead and killed about as many as they normally would.
Regarding the high number of pregnant whales they harvested this season, National Geographic notes:
Japan maintains that it must capture and kill juvenile and adult females in order to determine the age at which minke whales reach sexual maturity. Japan wants to use this data in its quest to demonstrate the minke whale population is healthy enough for regular whaling, Fuchs said. And because it’s breeding time in the southern seas, 90 percent of the females Japanese whalers killed were pregnant.
Thus, as NPR explains, Japan argues that it hasn’t violated the previous ban because the ICJ hasn’t yet ruled on the scientific legitimacy of their new “research” plan, even though the ICJ told them they couldn’t issue any further authorizations for whale hunts. In the meantime, environmentalists in Australia are furious that their government didn’t try to halt Japan’s new expedition, which may have killed minkes within the Australian Whale Sanctuary. Regardless, Australia may get another chance to intervene: Japan’s new whaling effort is just the beginning of a 12-year program designed to study (and then sell) 4,000 dead whales.