With the information presented in the proposal, the Panel was not able to determine whether lethal sampling is necessary to achieve the ... major objectives; therefore, the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling.
The panel found that "the present proposal contains insufficient information for the Panel to complete a full review."
Japan's new program, NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean), proposed killing up to 333 minke whales each year until 2027.
Unlike Japan's previous whaling program, JARPA II, only Antarctic minke whales are targeted, and there is some increased effort in 'non-lethal' research methods. But the core of the proposed program centres on the lethal sampling of minke whales.
Among Japan's justifications for the level of lethal sampling in its proposed program is the statement that: "As there is no other means than lethal methods, at this stage, the use of lethal method is indispensable to obtain age data which is necessary for estimating the age-at-sexual maturity"
This, Japan states, is important for estimating how many whales can be taken each year if commercial harvesting resumes.
Whales in court
There are 88 countries in the International Whaling Commission under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which placed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982.
However, member countries are allowed to issue permits to themselves to kill whales for scientific research; and Norway and Iceland continue to take whales commercially, having lodged formal objections to the commercial whaling moratorium.
Japan's latest proposal to kill whales was reviewed by an expert panel of scientists established under the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. Its role was to evaluate the proposed new research program "in the light of [its] stated objectives."
The expert panel's findings will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the scientific committee. Ultimately, though, it will be up to Japan whether it accepts the recommendations or not.
The current finding is particularly significant, because it mirrors the judgment of the International Court of Justice when it ruled against Japan's previous whaling program, JARPA II, in April 2014. Then the court ruled that "the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not 'for purposes of scientific research'."
Illegal under international law
JARPA II was Japan's lethal scientific whaling program that ran from 2005 until the ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2014. In JARPA II Japan had proposed to kill 850 Antarctic minke whales per year.
In its ruling the court was very critical of Japan's justifications for the sample sizes it had established in the JARPA II whaling program, and the need to undertake lethal whaling on the scale set. It found that Japan provided insufficient information to justify the numbers of humpback, fin and minke whales to be killed.
Other parts of the judgement are also critical of the absence of evidence to justify different for components of the Japanese whaling program.
Having ruled that the JARPA II program was illegal under international law, the court provided, toward the end of its judgement, a cautionary note:
"It is to be expected that Japan will take account of the reasoning and conclusions contained in this Judgment as it evaluates the possibility of granting any future permits."
Japan's proposal sent 'back to the drawing board'
The expert panel was also unconvinced by Japan's arguments for lethal sampling in the new proposal, finding:
"with the information presented in the proposal, the Panel was not able to determine whether lethal sampling is necessary to achieve the ... major objectives; therefore, the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives."
In short, the expert panel has sent Japan back to the drawing board, at least with respect to justifying its proposed lethal whaling program in the Antarctic.
The expert panel's recommendations, if adopted by the International Whaling Commission, and agreed to by Japan, would require Japan to undertake extensive further work on their proposal, especially in order to justify the killing of whales for the scientific research it proposes.
This work would include not only better justifying sample sizes in the program, but also why lethal sampling is required when non-lethal methods, such as biopsy sampling, is currently available.
Japan's Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, Joji Morishita, has been quoted as saying "we hope to work toward a resumption (of research whaling) at the end of the year." But convincing opponents to Japan's whaling program will not be easy.
The killing of whales for scientific research has been, at least for the past three decades, at the heart of international opposition to Japan's whaling program in the Antarctic.
Modern research techniques, such as those developed in Australia, appear to be closing the door on many of Japan's arguments for lethal whaling in the name of science.
Tony Press is Adjunct Professor, Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC at the University of Tasmania.