In hopes of resuming its controversial Antarctic whale hunt, the Japanese government has announced that it will slash its yearly quota for minke whales by nearly two thirds, down to 333. Last year the Japanese Fisheries Agency had a goal of harpooning 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 10 fin whales, though their efforts fell far short, at least partly due to the efforts of anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd.

Still operating under the guise of “scientific research”, the new proposal would aim to kill nearly 4,000 whales in Antarctic waters over the next 12 years. The scaled back plan is apparently a move to restart what was ruled illegal by an international court back in March. The case against Japan was brought by Australia to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and was supported by New Zealand.

A Sea Shepherd boat is water cannoned while attempting to disrupt the whaling activities of the Japanese Yushin Maru. Pic: Steve Roest/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

A Sea Shepherd boat is water cannoned while attempting to disrupt the whaling activities of the Japanese Yushin Maru. Pic: Steve Roest/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Australia’s center-right Liberal-led coalition government has been notoriously poor on environmental issues since taking power over a year ago, though it still pays lip service to the anti-whaling position. However, Environment Minister Greg Hunt had trouble putting his money where his mouth is regarding the customs ship slated to monitor Japan’s whaling efforts in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. It may be unlikely that strong political pressure will come from the Australian government in light of Japan’s new “research proposal” and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent anti-environmental crusade.

The onus is on our prime minister to tell his Japanese counterpart that Australia won’t stand idly by and watch whalers return to the Southern Ocean. We need to tell Japan we are deeply unhappy they have put forward a so-called scientific plan so soon after such a damning judgment against them.

—Darren Kindleysides, director, Australian Marine Conservation Society (via the Guardian)

Australia’s Green Party, with support from other parties, is putting pressure on the government to get more involved in the Southern Ocean whaling issue by spearheading a recent Senate report, including bringing up that all-but-abandoned election promise of Tony Abbott to send a ship to monitor the region. The report also warned against cuts in non-lethal whale research and encouraged lifting diplomatic engagement with Japan.

In the new proposal, Japan itself has added non-lethal whale research, though Greenpeace Japan activists are skeptical of any real change. They communicated their objections in a press release (via Science Insider):

Even though the new research plan announced today emphasizes the addition of non-lethal research, the previous survey’s main objective of continuing whaling is not changed in any way. It is widely understood that this project uses large amounts of tax monies to protect the interests of the whaling industry.

—Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan

Japan will present its proposal to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a body which Japan belongs to, but is without actual legal authority to stop the country’s scientific whaling program.

Whale meat on sale in Tokyo. Pic: Jessica Spengler (Flickr CC)

Whale meat on sale in Tokyo. Pic: Jessica Spengler (Flickr CC)