Commercial Whaling Makes a Comeback

by Julian Ku

It is amazing how much effort has been expended in countries like Japan and Australia to argue about whaling.  It is fascinating from say, a realist perspective, since it is hard to imagine that either side has any real meaningful national interest.  And as far as I can tell, Australia’s government is acting on essentially moral grounds, which is er, unusual to say the least.

Japan is ready for them, though.  In fact, they have apparently maneuvered the International Whaling Commission to consider lifting the ban on commercial whaling. They may even have the votes. And if they don’t, it is not clear to me why Japan could not simply withdraw from the IWC and start commercial whaling.  The International Whaling Convention (see Article XI) certainly doesn’t prevent a withdrawal and I am not aware of what other legal obligations regulate whaling in international waters.  The question for Australia, then, is whether it is worth trading the continuation of the IWC regime for the acceptance of commercial whaling.  This seems problematic as a matter of domestic Australian politics, although it seems like a fair compromise.

3 Responses

  1. Julian:

    The problem, as I see it, is that Japan just won’t get with sustainability program.  You’ll recall that in  the Southern Blue Tuna case, Japan asserted before the ITLOS that it was conducting “scientific tests”, when its fishermen were just conducting the status quo fishing.

    I for one hope that Japan isn’t allowed to conduct whaling operations.  Although, as you point out the Convention’s Art. XI let’s a party opt out, so long as it provides proper notice.  So much for posterity and the rights of future generations.

  2. Julian,

    I am no expert on whaling, but I’m not sure Australian and Japanese arguments in favour should be regarded as puzzling. Neo-Classical Realism (for instance) claims (as you too indicate in the  last sentence) that foreign policy interests are shaped domestically.

    In his fascinating study Whaling Diplomacy: Defining Issues in International Environmental Law (Edward Elgar 2005 at p. 5) Alexander Gillespie notes how the IWC alters its behaviour as a result of State Parties threats to opt out:

    “Failure to resolve the difficulties within the IWC had meant that the five pelagic whaling nations (the UK, the USSR, the Netherlands, Norway and Japan) had begun to meet separately, outside the auspices of the IWC. These discussions were ‘without result’.
    Although this outside meeting had failed, it became clear that a number of countries were thinking of leaving the IWC. Rather than risk this, the IWC decided to  increase quotas, as an incentive to make the nations stay. As the
    chairman’s report explained:

    [C]onscious of the importance of maintaining the Convention, the Commission showed a willingness to consider making some increase in the Antarctic permitted
    catch if thereby loss of the three member countries which had given notice of withdrawal, could be averted.”

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