27 December, 2018
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga says the withdrawal will come into effect at the end of June 2019, and that commercial whaling will be confined to Japanese waters and its economic zone, in accordance with global law.
It means Japan will be able to freely hunt species now protected by the IWC, like minke whales.
Japan is now conducting research whaling in the Northwestern Pacific and the Antarctic Ocean, but it must halt such activities in those waters once it withdraws from the IWC.
The danger in this move is that Japan will be joined by the countries that have supported its past efforts, thus fracturing the organization that is primarily responsible for the survival of many whale species into the 21st century.
Activist groups slammed the decision, with Greenpeace calling it a "sneaky" announcement.
The IWC imposed a commercial moratorium in the 1980s due to a dwindling whale population.
Japan's whaling of small species in its coastal waters will not be affected because it is not subject to IWC regulations.
As a result, Japan will stop hunting in Antarctic waters and the southern hemisphere, a prospect conservation groups had welcomed before it was formally confirmed.
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"The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling", Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.
Japanese media said that Japan could no longer take advantage of the IWC exemption for scientific whaling if it withdrew from the group because the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas requires its signatories, including Japan, to work through "the appropriate global organisations" for marine mammal conservation.
"The declaration today is out of step with the global community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures", worldwide conservationist group Greenpeace said. Since 1987, however, it has hunted whales for research purposes, a practice criticised internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.
Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 after some species were driven nearly to extinction. Australia's foreign minister, Marise Payne, and its environment minister, Melissa Price, said in a joint statement: "Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms..."
Japan slashed its annual quota in the Antarctic by about one third after the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the country's research whaling program wasn't as scientific as it had argued.
Japan has caught between about 200 and 1,200 whales each year, saying it is investigating stock levels to see whether the whales are endangered or not.
Last season, its scientific research expeditions caught almost 600 whales in the Antarctic and the northwest Pacific.
Japan's announcement means that it will be free to restart commercial whaling in July. Fisheries officials say that whale meat is more popular with older segments of the Japanese population than among the young.