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International relations

Japan to pull out of International Whaling Commission

Tokyo seeks to resume commercial catches against body's opposition

A whale is unloaded from a Japanese whaling ship. Japan plans to resume commercial whaling of relatively abundant species such as minke whales.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan has decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial catches in water surrounding the country, government sources said Thursday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet plans to approve the measure on Tuesday, and Japan will leave the U.K.-headquartered organization at the end of June.

The decision was prompted by opposition from anti-whaling countries over Japan's desire to restart commercial whaling for the first time since 1998. Tokyo wants to resume the practice in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. 

Withdrawing from an international organization is highly unusual for Japan, and the move is likely to draw more criticism from opponents of the country's stance on whaling.

"Greenpeace condemns the Japan government’s decision," the non-governmental organization said in a Twitter post. "We must protect these majestic creatures and their ocean home."

Once it leaves the IWC, Japan would be prohibited under international law from catching whales in the Antarctic Ocean -- a practice critics have called whaling under the guise of research.

The IWC was established in 1948 to promote the conservation and sustainable use of whales. The body, composed of 89 member states, has repeatedly rejected Japanese proposals to resume commercial whaling over the years. 

The latest round was in September, when 41 countries voted against Japan's proposal at the IWC's annual meeting.

Japan had hoped to resume commercial catches of relatively abundant species such as minke whales, saying that it will use scientific data to do so sustainably, similar to tuna fishing. The proposal needed a three-quarters majority to pass, but many countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, remain strongly against whaling. 

The IWC said in September that it would not allow any form of whaling.

Japan halted commercial whaling in line with an IWC moratorium adopted in 1982, though it did continue to catch whales for scientific research. Meat from the caught whales is sold at some stores and restaurants in Japan.

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