Over the past 20 years, Japanese whalers have taken more than 10,000 whales from the Antarctic Southern Ocean and the north Pacific Ocean for ‘scientific purposes’, under a controversial exemption clause in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). After analyzing the relationship of the ICRW regime with other applicable multilateral agreements, this article concludes that Japan's current pelagic ‘research whaling’ programmes are not only a growing embarrassment for the country's meritorious ongoing research in both polar regions; they are also in open breach of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In light of different options for international legal action, the author recommends the initiation of ‘compliance procedures’– potentially leading to a collective trade embargo – in accordance with CITES Conference Resolution 14.3 (2007).