On January 14, Japan officially communicated its intent to withdraw from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Although Japan has had a contentious relationship with the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the real fear of its withdrawal stems from the fact that it opens a one-month window during which other members can decide to leave. Some fear that South Korea and Russia could be motivated to withdraw from the Convention in the wake of Japan’s withdrawal.
The move by Japan did not come as a great surprise to many since the country had been lobbying the IWC to allow commercial whaling. A moratorium was placed on commercial whaling in 1986 due to declining populations. Japan has also been the focus of criticism for its practice of catching hundreds of whales a year for “scientific research”. Although scientific whaling is permissible and the IWC role is advisory only, Japan has killed a large number of whales since 1987 using the scientific research purpose exception. Japan is expected to resume commercial whaling in July of 2019 in Japanese territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Japan will not hunt in the Antarctic or in the Southern Hemisphere. The “scientific” whaling that Japan engaged in across the Antarctic will no longer be allowed due to the country’s withdrawal from the IWC and the Convention.
Japan’s withdrawal aligns it more closely with Iceland and Norway, as countries that engage in commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC. Canada, Venezuela, Egypt, and the Philippines are also former members of the IWC, having withdrawn from the organization in the 1980s.