FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil (10th September 2018)  – On the opening day of the 67th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, animal charity Humane Society International’s team of experts at the meeting are calling on governments to reject Japan’s reckless proposal to set quotas for cruel commercial whaling, and urging welfare improvements for whales killed in aboriginal subsistence hunts.

Japan is seeking an implausible consensus on its proposal to introduce an amendment that would directly nullify the moratorium on commercial whaling. Data from Japan’s so-called ‘scientific’ coastal whaling, between 2010 and 2015, in which Japan collected welfare data on 482 minke whales, shows that less than half of these died immediately on being hit by exploding harpoons, and the surviving whales took an average of five minutes to die. Data collected on 575 sei whales during the same period showed that 50 percent did not die immediately, and that surviving whales took an average of three minutes to die.

Whales not killed immediately are struck with cold (non-exploding) harpoons (banned for commercial whaling by the IWC in 1980), rifles, and steel lances. Japan has not submitted welfare data to the IWC since 2006, and does not provide data on maximum times to death, though independent analysis of footage has shown that whales in Japan’s Antarctic hunt have taken at least 33 minutes to die.

The Japanese government has designated the week immediately after IWC67, from 20th to 26th September, as ‘Be Kind to Animals Week’, framed as ‘a way to raise awareness about the welfare and proper care of animals’. HSI urges the Japanese government to apply this same principle to whales.

Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International UK says: “Japan could not possibly have advanced a more regressive and reckless proposition, imperiling both the conservation and welfare of whales. You don’t need to be a veterinarian to know that firing at a whale with a harpoon that explodes inside its body, in many cases not killing it immediately, is going to cause appalling and completely unacceptable suffering. There is no humane way to kill whales at sea, and that fact alone should be enough for countries to reject Japan’s proposal.”

The other major issue under consideration at the meeting is a bundle of proposals to approve quotas for aboriginal subsistence whaling, seeking approval for 2,905 whales to be killed over a seven year period, by Russia, the USA, Greenland and St Vincent and the Grenadines. It also seeks approval for automatic renewal of quotas, if certain criteria are met. While HSI supports the rights of aboriginal peoples to maintain their cultures, and recognises that the rights of indigenous peoples for self-determination are rightly protected by the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the charity also believes that all cultures can be encouraged to embrace and improve animal welfare. It also stresses that not all claims for subsistence whaling are without question or controversy, and the animal welfare in some aboriginal hunts needs serious attention.

In East Greenland minke whales are killed with rifles, and its own data presented at the IWC this week reveals that not only did none of the minke whales caught in 2016 die immediately, but it took an average of 26 minutes for whales to die, with one whale taking one hour to succumb to its gunshot injuries. In the Russian hunt, which kills 120 gray whales annually, whales routinely take half an hour to die. Data from the 2016 and 2017 hunts reveals that one unfortunate animal was shot with 16 harpoons, 8 darting guns and 273 rifle bullets, and took three hours five minutes to die.

Claire Bass continues: “We are particularly concerned by requests for increases in the quotas awarded to Russia and East Greenland, since these are the subsistence hunts with the worst animal welfare records. In Russia, gray whales are frequently peppered with hundreds of bullets from Kalashnikov assault rifles, causing immense pain and distress. And Greenland is now using less powerful and effective weapons than it was a few years ago, meaning more whales suffering for prolonged periods. We urge these countries to do much more to help their subsistence whaling communities to prevent such excessive suffering.”