In a move that has drawn criticism from conservationists across the globe, Japan has announced that it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – the organisation tasked with whale conservation – and will resume commercial whaling in July.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 after several species were driven to the brink of extinction, but Japan – a member since 1951 – has flouted the ban, continuing to hunt the marine mammals for what it calls ‘scientific research’, but still selling the meat, despite demand declining for many years. Even Japanese newspaper Asahi said that whale meat makes up only 0.1 percent of all meat sold in the country.

The decision to resume hunting means that Japanese whaling ships will be able to freely hunt down species that are protected by the IWC, such as the minke whale.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said commercial whaling would be restricted to Japanese territorial waters and economic zones, which means they will cease operations in Antarctic waters and the southern hemisphere, where they have been targeted by the likes of Sea Shepherd.

Outrage at the move has been widespread. Even before the formal announcement was made, Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns at Humane Society International in Australia, said Japan would be ‘operating completely outside the bounds of international law’, and that ‘this is the path of a pirate whaling nation, with a troubling disregard for international rule’.

Greenpeace Japan urged their government to reconsider, and warned it would risk criticism as the host of the G20 summit in June.

Sam Annesley, Greenpeace Japan’s executive director, said: “It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year, away from the spotlight of international media when the G20 summit arrives in the country in June, but the world sees this for what it is.

“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures.”

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