Workers butcher a Baird's beaked whale at Wada port in Minamiboso, southeast of Tokyo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files
Judges at the highest UN court have ordered Japan to halt
whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting its long-held argument
that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily
for human consumption.
Tokyo said it was disappointed but would abide by the
decision, while activists said they hoped it would bring
closer a complete end to whaling around the world.
The International Court of Justice sided with plaintiff
Australia in finding that the scientific output of the
whaling programme did not justify the number of whales
The tribunal said no further licences should be issued for
scientific whaling, where animals are first examined for
research purposes before the meat is sold to consumers.
"The research objectives must be sufficient to justify the
lethal sampling," said Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of
"In light of the fact the (research programme) has been going
on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600
minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited."
Japan signed a 1986 moratorium on whaling, but has continued
to hunt up to 850 minke whales in the icy waters of the
Southern Ocean, as well as smaller numbers of fin and
humpback whales, citing a 1946 treaty that permits killing
the giant mammals for research.
Judges agreed with Australia that the research - two peer
reviewed papers since 2005, based on results obtained from
just nine killed whales - was not proportionate to the number
of animals killed.
Japan was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling, but it would
comply, said Koji Tsuruoka, the country's chief lawyer before
the court. He said the government would need to study the
ruling before taking any further action.
The judgment is an embarrassment to Japan, but Tokyo could
continue whaling if it devised a new, more persuasive
programme of scientific research that required "lethal catch"
of whales, or if it withdrew from the whaling moratorium or
the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of
Whaling was once widespread around the world, but Japan is
now one of only a handful of countries, including Iceland and
Norway, that continue the practice on a large scale. The meat
is popular with Japanese consumers who consider it a
Norway, the other main whaling nation, in 1993 shifted away
from scientific whaling to "commercial" catches, where the
meat is sold directly to consumers.
The Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries said
"scientific research and catches for scientific purposes is
of fundamental importance to any responsible fisheries nation
and the court ruling will therefore be given due attention".
Norway set a quota of 1,286 minke whales in the north
Atlantic in last year's summer hunt, saying stocks are
plentiful in the region. Fishermen rarely catch the full
quota, partly because demand has sunk in recent years.
Iceland and Norway do not say they are carrying out research,
instead openly hunt whale meat for commercial purposes,
meaning the ICJ's ruling has no immediate consequences for
them. They have not signed up to a global moratorium on
whaling agreed by other countries.
But activists said the ruling reflected a gradually changing
climate that would put an end to whaling.
"Whaling is under immense scrutiny from the international
community, and the pincer movement on these countries is ever
tightening," said Claire Bass, wildlife campaigner at the
World Society for the Protection of Animals.