Japan is officially pulling out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after 30 years so that it can resume commercial whale hunting. The country has already put a plan in place for five vessels to depart from Hokkaido on July 1 to carry out whaling until autumn.

In their whaling mission, they are expected to target species including Giant Beaked Berardius whales and Minke whales.

Japan stopped whaling in 1988, in line with a moratorium adopted by IWC, after some species of whale almost became extinct. There are 89 member countries on the IWC, which will reduce to 88 when Japan leaves.

By withdrawing from the commission, Japan does not face any formal consequences, but according to National Geographic, other countries can take matters into their own hands by imposing sanctions – like denying Japan access to fishing in their waters. It also means that Japan would no longer be part of the international dialogue on whaling.

The Telegraph reported that in recent decades, Japan has continued whaling missions for the purpose of “scientific research”, although such activity had been widely condemned by critics as a cover for commercial whaling. Japan has long campaigned for the resumption of commercial whaling, claiming that most whale species are not endangered and highlighting how eating whale remains a deep-rooted part of its culture.

According to Kyodo News, government data shows that in the 1960s around 200,000 tons of whale meat was consumed in Japan every year. This figure has fallen to around 5,000 tons in recent years.

David Barritt, chief campaigner for animal welfare organization, Network for Animals (NFA), condemned Japan’s decision and described it as a threat to the world’s whale population.

“This is extremely sad because whales are already under threat from pollution and climate change. Now, they will cruelly be hunted again. What will happen when there are no more whales left to hunt?” asked Barritt.

“The concern is that commercial whale hunting has the potential to wipe out whale species. How can anyone or any country regulate Japan’s hunting practices? How do we as humans protect whales from this?” he said.

NFA believes that the 88 remaining countries on the IWC should issue some sort of formal consequence to Japan for its rash decision, without consideration for international environmental and oceanic procedures and regulations.