Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) allows for the killing of whales "for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit." To avoid wastage (which was undoubtedly a big issue in 1946 when the ICRW was written), it allows for meat to be sold. Thus, International Whaling Commission (IWC) members are able to self-allocate whaling quotas for “research purposes.”
Japan has exploited this loophole for decades—even before the commercial whaling moratorium came into force in 1986—to "top up" its commercial quotas. Japan initially objected to the moratorium but later withdrew its objection and increased its level of Article VIII research whaling. Today it self-allocates research quotas for minke and sei whales and sells the products domestically. It conducts its whaling in the North Pacific and in the Antarctic (the latter within an IWC-designated sanctuary, a designation that Japan objected to in 1994).
Iceland and Norway have also exploited the Article VIII loophole, with the former killing minke and endangered fin whales and the latter minke whales. In total, over 17,000 whales have been taken for "scientific research" since the moratorium took effect.
The scientific whaling loophole was clearly not meant as a substitute for commercial whaling and its abuse defies the spirit of the moratorium and the will of the IWC. To date, the IWC has adopted over 40 resolutions denying the validity and necessity of scientific whaling programs, and calling on Japan and other nations to stop taking whales by this type of whaling. Unfortunately, IWC resolutions are nonbinding and have been ignored.