Japan’s antarctic whale hunts not scientific: ICJ

U.N. sides with Australia, orders Japan to halt annual catches


The U.N.’s top court on Monday ordered Japan to end its annual Antarctic whale hunt, saying in a landmark ruling that the program was a commercial activity disguised as science.

The judgment by the International Court of Justice in The Hague is binding, final and ineligible for appeal, forcing Japan to drastically change the whaling program it long claimed was for “scientific research.”

While the decision does not apply to whaling in the Pacific Ocean, it is likely to deal a severe blow to the entire whaling industry, which has come under strong criticism from Western countries.

Koji Tsuruoka, the official who represented the Japanese government in the case, told reporters that Tokyo will comply with the judgment as a country that respects the rule of law, but expressed deep disappointment with the order to “revoke” any permit or license for whaling in the specified area.

“Japan shall revoke any existent authorization, permit or license granted in relation to JARPA II (research program) and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance to the program,” ICJ Presiding Judge Peter Tomka said.

Agreeing with Australia, which in 2010 hauled Japan before the Hague-based ICJ in a bid to end whale hunting in the Southern Ocean, Tomka said that the “special permissions granted by Japan are not for purposes of scientific research.”

“The evidence does not establish that the program’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to its stated (scientific) objectives,” Tomka said.

Matthew Collis, marine campaigns manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in Sydney that the decision is a “major victory for whaling conservation in international law” and called on Tokyo to abide by the court’s ruling.

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said the ruling was the correct one.

“Sea Shepherd has been upholding the Australian Federal Court ruling and the International Court has just acknowledged what Japan is doing is illegal. It’s a real testament to Sea Shepherd and all its supporters and Capt. Paul Watson, all these years and his efforts,” Hansen said, adding that he hopes Japan will respect the decision.

“Our hope is that Japan can be a nation that loves whales and sees the huge benefit from eco-tourism that Australia does, which was also a nation that used to hunt whales,” he said.

While Norway and Iceland run commercial whaling programs in spite of a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium, Japan insists that its program is scientific, while at the same time admitting the resulting meat ends up on plates back home.

Japan, which embarked on what it called “scientific” whaling in the Antarctic Ocean in 1987, insisted the program was consistent with Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which permits research whaling, and said the selling of the resulting meat is also permitted under the article because it requires any whales taken to be processed as far as practicable.

But a 16-judge panel at the court stated that Japan’s “killing, taking and treating of whales . . . are not for purposes of scientific research” because the way Japan decided on the number of whales to be taken as samples was “not driven by strictly scientific considerations,” supporting Australia’s claim that Japan’s priority was “to maintain whaling operations without any pause.”

The court also noted that the scientific aspect of Japan’s program is being undermined by its limited scientific output to date and the open-ended time frame of the program, pointing that there has not been enough Japanese cooperation with other domestic and international researchers over species in the Antarctic Ocean.

Since 1987, Japan has taken an average of 400 minke whales each year from the Antarctic Ocean, according to data released by the Fisheries Agency.

In 2005 Japan set an annual target of 935 minke whales and its fleet caught a total of 853 in 2005 and 679 in 2008. However, its annual catch plunged to 103 in 2012, with anti-whaling activities cited by officials as the main cause.

After the moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission took force in 1986, Japan continued to hunt the mammals under quotas set by the government, saying collecting scientific data was necessary for the sustainable use of whale resources.

Japan’s rationale was that “scientific whaling” could be used to provide evidence to lift the moratorium and thus resume commercial whaling. This was feasible because a legal loophole in the moratorium permits hunting to collect scientific data, and Tokyo was accused of exploiting it.

Canberra had said that Japan had, since 1988, slaughtered more than 10,000 whales under scientific whaling, allegedly putting it in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve marine mammals and their environment.

In its application before the world court, Australia accused Japan of failing to “observe in good faith the zero catch limit in relation to the killing of whales.”

Japanese officials declined to comment on specifics ahead of the ruling, but a Fisheries Agency official said it maintained the view that “Japan’s whaling is purely for the purposes of obtaining scientific data, so that whale resources can be sustainably maintained.”

Tokyo had also consistently defended the eating of whale meat as a culinary tradition and vowed to “never stop whaling.”

But Japanese officials said beforehand that Tokyo would accept the verdict of the ICJ, which was set up after World War II to rule on disputes between countries.Japan in April last year announced its whaling haul from the Southern Ocean was at a record low because of “unforgivable sabotage” by activists from the militant environmental group Sea Shepherd.

  • Free ALL Cetacea

    I guess Japan will just have to eat the thousands of tonnes of whale meat currently rotting in freezers.

    • Mike O’Brien

      Or they can quit the IWC and continue whaling at current levels.

      Or they can correct the specific issues that the ICJ ruling pointed to and issue a new research plan, leading to new permits under Aticle VIII.

      It was interesting that a major point of the ICJ ruling seemed to be the increase in sample size from JARPA to JARPA II. The ICJ said there was little basis for the change given that both research plans had much the same goal. So a return to the JARPA levels is very possible.

      Another point that the ICJ raised was the low number of fin whales caught and no humpback whales caught, despite the JARPA II plan saying 50 of each was needed to meet the research aims. It almost sounded like if Japan had killed MORE fin whales and killed humpback whales it would have given the program more legitimacy.

      • Christopher Glen

        Well Japan promised to abide by the decision, so perhaps they will stick to the north pacific and coastal waters

      • mack man

        O’Brien you are grasping at straws, face it – whaling by the Japanese is on the losing side. Whaling in Japan has been dealt a deadly blow today. Sea Shepherd can now concentrate on fighting the Japanese Northern Pacific hunt, or Australia and NZ can take the Japanese government to court for hunting in this area also.

        One thing clear is that the court has found their activities, are defined as criminal acts. In addition now they are confirmed
        legally as lairs because of their bogus “Research” claims as a reason to hunt whales.

      • Free ALL Cetacea

        And why are they whaling when there are thousands of tonnes rotting in their freezers? Wouldn’t anything to do with massive backhanders to government officials, would it? The old boys’ network is alive and well and living in Japan.

    • Toolonggone

      Unless they are contaminated with a high density of mercury.

  • doninjapan

    Interesting, I wonder how this will fit in with the mindset of those that believed that Australia was doomed in this undertaking?

  • Enrico C

    A great news, long overdue.

  • Mike O’Brien

    I wonder how this will affect Sea Shepherd in the long run.
    Their donations and budget skyrocketed when Whale Wars was aired by Animal Planet. And most of the news you read about them is in regards to their Southern Ocean campaign.
    Could the loss of their favorite whipping boy lead to their donations drying up?

    • Kristen Hall

      Whale Wars: Iceland.

    • DGittins

      There are plenty more “whipping boys” out there. Plenty more evil, plenty more cruel and sadistic violence, plenty more self-serving greedy destruction with no concern for the future of our planet and our children. I’ve never watched an episode of Whaling Wars and so that’s unlikely to have impacted my decision to send money to Sea Shepherd. I have done so for years, and I plan to for plenty more.

    • Doczz

      If this means Japan will stop going to Antarctica, this ruling is gonna hit SSCS hard, no doubt about that.
      No more action filled trips to the lawless Southern Ocean means the donations will dry up for sure.

      If they gonna take on Iceland, Faroes and Norway, they must be in territorial waters and play by all the rules, or else they will get arrested, or worse…
      In other words, all this means SSCS will go from a “intervention group” (that they always loved to call themself) to just another protest group.

  • JTCommentor

    International law is a curious thing, and operates completely differently to domestic laws within a country. There is a lot of literature on whether international law, as many understand it (i.e. binding a country), can ever really exist. What happens next is a pretty interesting case study in this.

    • My understanding is that international law is based on either maritime law or cooperative agreements between nations (i.e. UN Declaration of Human Rights), with international sanction the last recourse for those flagrantly defiant states. In most cases, they see vested interest, or they simply don’t engage, as Japan has not done so on international law for child custody. Its hardly a terribly objective framework. More akin to extortion. But that’s fully compatible with majoritivism in national politics, except that OECD countries get more power because of their wealth. No, its the same,for the same reason…no objective standard of value.

  • mack man

    Today is a great day! The Japanese government and the whalers are indeed
    proven to be breaking international law on many different counts. They should be punished. To start with, they should all be lined up, bent over, and giving a jolly good spanking.

  • leconfidant

    This “scientific research” excuse was always a naked lie. What was the hypothesis they were testing? What were their findings? Was a single paper published?

    The whale lobby would say “But this was always a tradition of Japan’s, so we were right to use an excuse to take exception to a law which was so unfair to Japan”.

    Well tell that to the rest of the world. Go read Moby Dick. Every other country was whaling and every other country put a stop to it. What was Japan’s big problem?

  • Charles

    Japan can use now the infamous
    Nishin Maru and the Harpoon Ships they used to kill Whales; for the search of
    the lost plane.

  • Raw Gasmic

    I think it’s highly unlikely that Japan will revise it’s current “research” plan, to be run in accordance with the ICJ’s ruling. Even at the larger quotas they’ve been targeting, their campaigns have run at a loss. It would appear unfeasible to reduce the quotas and lose even more money. And, as others have indicated, there’s no real market for the meat.

    It just might be that Japan will welcome this “defeat” as an opportunity to stop hemorrhaging funds into a dying program. It can be played out as Japan simply demonstrating what reasonable members of the global community they actually are. We can only hope.

  • Christopher Glen

    Wishful thinking, last I checked there were no food scandals or contamination with Aussie beef. McDonalds Japan at least, doesn`t trust US beef.

  • Christopher Glen

    You miss the point, there will still be Norway and Iceland to deal with

  • Christopher Glen

    Doesn`t matter. They lost and promised to abide by the ruling. Yeah!

  • Free ALL Cetacea

    The USA allows whaling for its first nations tribes. It can hardly take the stance of anti-whaling while doing it themselves.

    • Really? I didn’t know the US was so concerned about integrity. Maybe it was Japan who made the point.

  • Bruce_Tutty

    I hear what you are saying legally, but this doesn’t take into consideration that it isn’t Govts that are pushing this, but the citizens of the objecting countries.

    Whaling is objected to vehemently in New Zealand, and whatever reason Kiwis have for doing so, no legal argument that allows continued whaling in their part of the world is going to stop them protesting and supporting the Sea Shepard. This is their tradition.

    If someone has a historical use of whale products that can’t be replaced, such as for the Inuit peoples, then that may be justifiable. But sailing huge factory ships to the other side of the planet, into another nation seas is not how they traditionally hunted.

    Japan are doing research, but only to enable them to argue for a quota increase, not to learn anything of scientific merit. Simply put, they were lying, and behaving disrespectfully to the nations whose coasts they hunted off. They deserved to lose this privilege.

    Seeing how tiny the take was last year after the protests, i can’t envisage the industry being any other than a waste of time and money, and one that diminishes any nation that takes part or supports them, far more than the returns on the meat can justify.

    Frankly, it would be nice not to see whales continually being hunted to the edge of extinction like we do with so many other species. I’d hate to make a mistake and lose one that means so much to so many.

  • ChicagoPiano

    This is great, isn’t it? We’ve put people out of jobs just to protect a bunch of fish.

  • Pat Chambers

    A fascination with Barbaric behaviors often seems unsolvable in humans. Numberless daily examples exist, and it is only by refusing to consume such products that ordinary people can make them at least, uneconomically viable. Killing sentient species for food or amusement should never occur, even in the most desperate situations; I just read a book by veterans of the Pacific war which told of finding dried human meat in the packs of slain Japanese soldiers abandoned to starve by their leaders. Even this seemed horrific and many chose instead to perish of malnutrition or commit suicide. That barbaric option is always there,which is why we so badly need guidance of our religious faiths, whatever they may be. Gentleness in all things, and respect for all-what’s wrong with that?

  • Toolonggone

    “Japan’s antarctic whale hunts not scientific: ICJ”
    Yep. The title explains everything. It’s not science, period.

  • Straw argument….I doubt many people with any knowledge of the issue think that. They know it was a ‘legal loophole’. All so common with governments who function on the basis of ‘arbitrary, extorted’ mandates.

  • Starry Night

    The ‘it’s our tradition’ argument is just so silly! There is nothing ‘traditional’ about travelling all the way past the equator into the Southern Ocean and using modern factory ships and modern technology to kill. Pretty sure they never did that back in the old days….

  • Speel

    I would like to see this, as last time they went to the area they had to hide themselves. The Japanese will likely not treat them so well when you come into their land and try to force “progress” on them.

  • Henry Marx

    “Commercial whaling in Australia ceased in 1978 with the closure of Australia’s last whaling station, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, in Western Australia. In 1979 Australia adopted an anti-whaling policy”

    My source is the Australian Dept. of the Environment.


    • My source WA govt suggests these facilities were owned by Norwegians. Might I suggest the Norwegians didn’t really care where they were based; they just wanted whale oil/meat. http://slwa.wa.gov.au/wepon/sea/html/whaling.htm. After all, Japan doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes facts are just not enough.

      • Henry Marx

        What exactly does that have to do with the fact that Australian whaling ended in 1978 and not “a century ago” as you claimed earlier?

  • Mike O’Brien

    How about the Australian government as a source?

    “Whaling in Australia, though mainly targeting sperm whales,
    continued until 1978,”


  • Toolonggone

    Oh really? So they join in the team to do junk science. What kind of marine bilogists and oceanographers condone the killing of cataceans? Highly questionable ethics.

  • swissjoe

    Firstly, why are you shouting using caps breaking long standing online etiquette?

    Secondly, the indignation needs to be redirected. My comment was a reference to your own.

    Mike O’Brien wrote; “… why didn’t the ‘green’ mindset lead to them getting their current level of donations until after their TV show started airing?”

    As I said inferring ‘without publicity’ there would be no donations. ergo; the support would dry up.

    Still it’s ok with me if you believe the green NFP are thriving. Encouraging for them, and they will take all they can get.