Human Interaction

Whale Wars Should Japan Leave the IWC?

posted: 05/15/12

Animal Planet presents this feature as a conversation with legal scholars. We draw no conclusions, other than that reasonable legal minds differ on these issues.

DR. CHARLOTTE EPSTEIN: "Japan can very readily walk out of the IWC tomorrow, just the way Canada did. Canada's not a member of the IWC because it feels that it's a place where nothing gets achieved. So if Japan walked out tomorrow of the IWC — which it can cause it's a sovereign country — then it could whale as much as it wanted. It would be under no international scrutiny whatsoever.

"The question as to why the Japanese haven't walked out of the IWC already is a really interesting question. It's a really important one. And I think it has to do with their desire to be seen as good members of the international community. People who are a country that cooperates with other countries, that stays in international organizations, that doesn't just walk out. And this, I think, they deserve a bit of credit for, given the amount of pressure they've been subjected to.

"The international scrutiny is only legitimate because Japan has accepted that it should be, right. Japan can withdraw that acceptance at any moment, as can any other sovereign country. The only reason that we can observe what's going on or subject the Japanese to scrutiny is because Japan accepts this by being a member of the IWC. If it didn't, Japan could whale five times as many whales and we would not be able to tell it not to do so. Because it have broken its contract with the IWC. And this is what might happen if we push too hard."

DR. TIMOTHY STEPHENS: "Japan is a party to the IWC, one of the first parties to the Whaling Commission. It joined the Whaling Commission because, at the time, the Whaling Commission was all about exploiting whales to the maximum possible, you know, to be used for everything from lamp oil to women's corsets to everything else.

"Now we know that the tide has turned, and — since the '80s — we're now on a conservation agenda. Japan's never been happy with the conservation agenda of the Whaling Commission. So from the '80s, Japan stopped its commercial whale hunt, as it had to, but then started to ramp up its scientific whale hunt. So now its scientific whaling is really commercial whaling in disguise.

"Now, Japan hasn't walked from the IWC, I think there's a couple of reasons for that. One is that Japan is an upstanding international citizen. Japan takes its international obligations very seriously. Japan complies with the law. So Japan doesn't want to be seen as kind of ruining the game. Japan wants to be seen as a cooperative player. And I think the other reason is, Japan still thinks that it can achieve its long-term objectives through the Whaling Commission. Whether it can or not is another issue."

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