Few things are more taboo to the global conservation community than whale hunting, but Japan doesn’t seem to care much. The country, frowned upon for its hunting of marine mammals like dolphins and whales, is doubling down on those endeavors with plans for a new, faster whaling mother ship to lead its fleet and better avoid activists who would try to stop them.
In a clear sign of determination to continue annual whale hunts in Antarctic waters—often done under the guise of scientific research even though the meat from the kills is openly eaten—the country’s fisheries agency is looking into replacing or upgrading the 30-year-old Nisshin Maru, according to the Japanese to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. It has also been widely reported that officials want a better ship in order to evade anti-whaling activists like Sea Shepherd, a group known for taking direct action against the whaling vessels.
Japan halted its whaling program for two years in 2014, after the international court of justice (ICJ) ordered a temporary stop to the annual slaughter in the Southern Ocean. However, two years later it resumed the hunt, albeit with a whale quota diminished by one-third. In 2016, the fleet set out with a target of 333 minke whales and a final count of over 300.
In December, the E.U. and 12 other nations condemned Japan’s Antarctic whaling program in a formal statement, however Japan has shown very little regard for such proclamations.
Sea Shepherd recently gave up its pursuit of Japan’s whalers in the Southern Ocean “because it made no strategical sense” according to Founder and Captain Paul Watson. But upon hearing about the revamped mother vessel, Watson wrote in a Facebook message that the move is evidence of the country’s plans to “fully resurrect commercial whaling operations.”
“If this replacement floating slaughter house, this Cetacean Death Star is built, and if it returns to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with an increased quota, it will be strongly, passionately and aggressively opposed,” he wrote. “The Whale Wars are not over!”
In a statement Wednesday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe espoused his country’s intentions to pursue commercial whaling—whale war or not.
“We will pursue all possibilities in order to resume commercial whaling, including opportunities at the September meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC),” he told Japan’s parliament when asked to comment on the policy. He said he supports the continuation of Japan’s traditional use of whale meat, fat, and baleen “in a sustainable manner based on scientific evidence, just like other marine resources.”
The IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, a year before the Nisshin Maru was built. Since then, Japan has slaughtered more than 10,000 whales according to the Australian government. Japanese whaling officials say it’s necessary to kill whales to study their behavior and biology—including determining age and reproductive status—but many environmentalists and scientists disagree.
Japanese citizens may be losing their stomach for whale in the long run, though—consumption has declined dramatically over the last 50 years. According to The Guardian, “in recent years, stocks of whale meat have remained unsold, with almost 4,600 tonnes stored in port freezers at the end of 2012, according to Japanese government statistics.”
In what seems like an oddly timed coincidence, on Wednesday the Japanese town of Taiji, infamous for its whale and dolphin hunts, announced a new sister-city relationship Klaksvik, a Faroe Islands town that has also been targeted by activists for its whale hunting practices.
The mayors intend to meet soon and discuss whale killing.