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Japan Just Killed 300 Whales For 'Research' — And People Aren't Happy

And 122 of them were about to become moms.

These 122 minke whales were expecting babies — but instead of getting the chance to become moms, Japanese hunters tracked them down and killed them.

This news was recently revealed in a technical report submitted by the Japanese government to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international governing body that’s responsible for the conservation of whales and management of whaling activities. Japanese whalers killed a total of 333 whales on their latest whaling expedition in the Southern Ocean, and 122 of them were pregnant females.

Japanese whaling ship
A whale on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, Japan's primary whaling ship | Glenn Lockitch/Sea Shepherd

In 1982, the IWC implemented a global moratorium on commercial whaling, although countries like Norway and Iceland have disregarded the law and continued to hunt whales. Japan has also carried on with its whale hunts, although it claims to kill them for “scientific research purposes.”

Yet animal welfare advocates doubt that claim — they believe Japan has always killed whales for commercial purposes, and continues to do so now.

“At HSI [Humane Society International] we deplore Japan's ongoing and relentless killing of whales for profit,” Mark Simmonds, senior marine scientist at HSI, told The Dodo. “This cruelty continues despite a global ban on commercial whaling agreed [to] in 1982 and still in force. Japan's claims that its takes are for scientific research provide a thin camouflage for a large-scale commercial activity that continues annually in the North Pacific as well as in the Southern Ocean. The latest news of [a] large number of pregnant females being killed only deepens our concerns.”

Minke whale
A minke whale | John Carlson

In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Japan to temporarily halt its whaling program after Japan failed to prove it was killing whales for scientific purposes. But two years later, Japan resumed its whaling program.

“I was angry but not surprised,” Gary Stokes, Southeast Asia director of Sea Shepherd Global, a group that actively opposes the Japanese whale hunts, told The Dodo. “I felt helpless.”

In previous years, Sea Shepherd has sent ships to the Southern Ocean to stop the Japanese hunters from killing whales, but this has become impossible, Stokes explained. The Japanese whaling ships are now equipped with military hardware with real-time satellite tracking capacities, which helps the whalers avoid Sea Shepherd’s ships.

Whale on Japanese whaling ship
A harpooned whale hanging off the side of the Nisshin Maru | Glenn Lockitch/Sea Shepherd

“Sadly, we have not sent ships this year,” Stokes said. “The previous year, we sent two ships for three months, but due to them watching our positions live, it was like playing touch [and go], but you’re blindfolded and everyone else is not. We burned millions of dollars of fuel and saved zero whales. What we can do is keep up the pressure on the government[s] of the world to act.”

Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, believes that Japan is actually gearing up to expand its whaling program.

Minke whale swimming in ocean
Vanessa Mignon

“Japan deliberately targets pregnant minke whales,” Watson told The Dodo. “The fetuses are a large part of their ‘research.’ The objective of their efforts is to gather data to support a return to full-scale commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean.”

Toward that end, the Japanese whalers even have plans to construct a new factory ship to replace the Nisshin Maru, their primary whaling ship, Watson explained.

“These operations are in defiance of the verdict of the International Court of Justice and the global moratorium on commercial whaling as ruled by the International Whaling Commission,” Watson said.

If your home country is a member of the IWC, you can contact your government to encourage them to push back against Japan’s aggressive whaling campaign. You can also help fight whaling by making donations to HSI and Sea Shepherd Global.