Japanese whalers are back in the Southern Ocean, aiming to kill 333 minke whales — ostensibly for the purposes of scientific research — under special permits issued by their government. In our view, the science behind Japan’s whaling activity has not passed a reasonable standard of peer review.
We are members of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee (IWC-SC), plus one independent expert witness (M. Mangel) whose evidence contributed to the March 2014 negative ruling on Japan’s JARPA II whaling permit by the International Court of Justice (ICJ; see A. S. Brierley Nature 520, 157; 2015). In 2015, Japan submitted a new whaling proposal (NEWREP-A). The IWC-SC coordinated two rounds of review, including one by an independent expert panel that concluded that lethal sampling had not been justified. Numerous IWC-SC members recommended exploration of widely used non-lethal alternatives (see, for example, A. M. Polanowski et al. Mol. Ecol. Resour. 14, 976–987; 2014) before killing is resumed.
Japan claims to have “sincerely taken into account” the IWC-SC’s opinion, but, as on previous occasions, has failed to alter its plans in any meaningful way and is proceeding to kill whales under a self-determined quota. In October 2015, Japan also rejected the jurisdiction of the ICJ on this issue.
We believe that further discussion of special-permit whaling at IWC-SC under the present procedure — in which the opinion of proposers is afforded equal weight to that of referees — is a waste of time. The IWC urgently needs to develop a process of scientific review that results in clear decisions that can be respected by all.
Andrew S. Brierley* University of St Andrews, UK.
Phillip J. Clapham* Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, USA.
*On behalf of 31 other signatories (listed below).
The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the governmental, academic or private institutions with which the authors are affiliated.