Environmentalists cautiously celebrate Japan whaling ban

A new ruling to end century-long whale hunting in the Southern Ocean has been challenged by the Japanese government, but will still result in fewer whales being killed

A UN court has ordered the Japanese government to stop its whaling programme in the Antarctic. Though the decision was welcomed by environmentalists, their celebrations have since been qualified by Japan vowing to continue the practice but kill fewer whales.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the nation must end its annual slaughter of mainly minke whales in the Southern Ocean after disagreeing with Japan’s claims that the hunts were for scientific research. Japan had agreed to be bound by the decision, which was reached on 31 March in favour of Australia who brought the case before the court.

Soon afterwards, the government of Japan confirmed it had cancelled plans to hunt this year, making it the first since 1904 in which no whales will be pursued in those waters.

However, the nation’s minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Yoshimasa Hayashi, has since announced an intention to continue a separate hunt in the Pacific Ocean. He also said that the nation wants to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean next year under a redesigned programme reflecting the ICJ’s ruling.

Greenpeace campaigner John Frizell had called the ruling “a phenomenal victory for those calling for an end to commercial whaling, and for the world’s whales. We hope that whaling ships will never again set sail to the Southern Ocean, that commercial whaling is consigned to history, and we can instead focus attention on some of the many other threats to the world’s whales and the oceans that they live in.”

The Australian government first applied to the ICJ in 2010, saying that Japan did not “observe in good faith the zero catch limit in relation to the killing of whales.”

Australia’s case rested largely on the assertion that Japan was using scientific research as a cover for commercial whaling, selling the meat in restaurants and supermarkets.

Japanese whalers are said to have killed 850 minke whales and up to 50 endangered fin whales every year, claiming the deaths were in order to study the whale population with a view to the reintroduction of sustainable commercial whaling.

Clare Perry, head of the Environmental Investigation Agency’s cetaceans campaign, called the ruling a “historic decision,” and added that the whale meat market in Japan was, in any case, “ever-dwindling.”