Continuing a pattern of controversial activity that has earned it international criticism for years, Japan has decided to ignore the International Whaling Commission by continuing whaling in 2015. According to this account of the situation in The Guardian, a new Commission resolution outlines criteria by which whaling can be considered permissible research; Japan says its whaling does constitute research (though resulting meat is sold commercially), but would need to stop whaling activity until 2016 and submit a plan to the IWC next year in order to meet the new guidelines.
As National Geographic explains, whaling for scientific research has been an exception to the IWC moratorium on whaling since 1986. While Iceland and Norway, both Commission members, engage in commercial whaling despite IWC bans, Japan is the only country currently whaling in international waters. One of the most vocal critics of Japan’s whaling activity has been Australia, which accuses Japan of using science as a front for commercial activity. The Australian government says Japan has killed 10,000 whales since the 1986 ban went into effect.
Whale meat gained popularity in Japan during post-World War II food shortages. Some have suggested the Japanese government’s continued whaling despite years of international criticism is driven by the meat’s historical relationship with national food security. Others theorize that Japan may fear backing down on whaling will make its lucrative bluefin tuna trade subject to more international pressure. In any case, whaling is hardly the Japanese dietary staple it once was—a 2012 poll by the Nippon Research Center found almost 90 percent of people surveyed hadn’t bought whale meat in the last year.