THE, HAGUE – 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.