Japan's Farm and Fisheries Minister, Mutsuki Kato, said yesterday in Tokyo that the government now had to choose between accepting the IWC's decision, filing an objection within 90 days or quitting the commission.
For years, Japan has been planning to kill more than 2,000 minke whales a year in the seas around the Antarctic, re-establishing a dwindling industry and culture which retained a hefty domestic political clout.
Faced with the IWC's 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan has had to make do with killing 300 minkes a year in these waters.
It got around the moratorium by running its whaling as a programme of scientific research. Although minke meat fetches extremely high prices in Japan, the proceeds of the scientific whaling voyages do not cover the costs and they are subsidised by the government.
The new sanctuary was agreed on Thursday at the IWC meeting in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. The necessary three-quarters majority was easily surpassed. There were 23 nations in favour and only Japan voting against.
The boundary of the sanctuary runs well to the north of the Antarctic, between 40 and 60 degrees south latitude. There is already a Indian Ocean sanctuary which adjoins it. The new zone takes in millions of square miles of ocean where three-quarters of the world's remaining great whales live. Of these the minkes are by far the most abundant - about 750,000 live in the Southern Ocean.
Kazuo Shima, Japan's chief delegate to the IWC, said the decision to shield a species that is not endangered set a worrisome precedent.Reuse content