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Japan Loses ICJ Whaling Case

Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru in action. (Photo: Australian Gov't.)

Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru in action. (Photo: Australian Gov’t.)

Rejecting claims that its practice of slaughtering whales is for scientific purposes, the International Court of Justice has ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s Antarctic whaling program.

The Washington Post reports the ICJ ruled 12-4 in the case, in which Australia sued Japan in the United Nations’ highest court. Australia argued that Japan primarily engages in commercial whaling, not research.

Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia agreed that Japan’s whaling program failed to justify the large numbers of minke whales being killed. The ICJ ordered Japan to cease killing whales on the grounds that the slaughter is not “scientific,” as asserted by Japan. Tomka noted that Japanese whalers have killed some 3,600 minke whales since 2005, but that scientific activities were very limited.

The meat from slaughtered whales is sold for human consumption in Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. Australia had accused Japan of using the pretense of scientific research to fulfill demand for whale meat, while the Japanese countered that Australia was attempting to impose its cultural norms on Japan.

The Japanese government said it would abide by the ICJ’s order to temporarily halt Antarctic whaling, but that it “regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision.”

The ICJ decision is a big victory for Australia and for marine mammal conservation and other environmental groups which have long fought for an end to Japan’s whaling activities.

“The myth that this hunt was in any way scientific can now be dismissed once and for all,” Greenpeace UK spokesman Willie MacKenzie told the BBC.

The activist group Sea Shepherd, which has gained international attention for its daring and dangerous high seas confrontations with Japanese whaling ships, applauded the ICJ ruling.

“With today’s ruling, the ICJ has taken a fair and just stance on the right side of history by protecting the whales… and the vital marine ecosystem of Antarctica,” said Capt. Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global.

Whale meat for sale at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

Whale meat for sale at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

Some Japanese lamented the ruling. Shintaro Sato, owner of the popular Tokyo restaurant Taruichi, one of the few remaining eateries that serve whale meat, said the decision impacts his “life’s work.”

“There are fewer and fewer restaurants serving whale meat dishes in Tokyo,” Sato told Asahi Shimbun. “I believe it is my life’s work to pass down the cuisine culture from the past 4,000 years to the next generation.”

One of Sato’s customers, a 50-year-old salaryman from Tokyo’s Toshima ward, told Asahi Shimbun that eating whale meat “is part of Japanese culture.”

“But having a sense of unease about it itself illustrates the intense international pressure we are under concerning whale meat dishes,” the man added.

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