The strangeness of Japan's decision to start openly hunting whales

Each year, Japanese whalers haul hundreds of harpooned whales aboard their giant 8,145-ton vessel, the Nisshin Maru. And for decades, they've killed most of these whales in the open Antarctic seas, under the guise of performing scientific "research." But now Japan is changing course, in a curious way.

On Wednesday Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced that the nation will retreat from killing whales in the Antarctic waters. Instead, the Japanese have dropped the pretense of hunting whales for research and say they will strictly hunt whales in waters around Japan — mostly for the whales' meat.

"It’s a bit of a strange kind of move," Carl Safina, a marine ecologist at Stonybrook University, said in an interview, noting that Japan still intends to hunt whales, but just not in certain whale-rich waters.  

While this leaves the Southern Hemisphere free of whaling for the first time in centuries — a true conservation victory — the Japanese continued killing of whales still has dubious legal merit.

Following Wednesday's announcement, Japan will soon be leaving the United Nation's International Whaling Commission — the world body in charge of whale conservation. This commission halted commercial whaling over 30 years ago, in 1986. Since then, nearly every nation in the world has stopped commercial whaling.

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