Update, April 18:
Not surprisingly, Japan says it will continue whaling in the Northwest Pacific, where last year it took triple the number of whales than in the Antarctic. Because of the court ruling (read below), they will take fewer whales this year – the quota has yet to be finalized. The country plans to submit a new whaling plan to the International Whaling Commission for a 2015 hunt in Antarctica. In other words, they are not giving whaling up!
After pursuing legal action against Japan for hunting whales in the Antarctic, Australia won!
The 16 member International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nation’s top court, issued a binding decision – which means it can’t be appealed – in the landmark case, Australia v. Japan. It ordered Japan to halt its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic and to revoke all whale-taking permits.
The court rejected the country’s argument that it kills whales for scientific purposes, a loophole that remains in the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 international treaty.
The government subsidized whaling industry’s takings end up on store shelves. The number of whales killed isn’t justifiable in the name of science, says the court.
Australia says Japan has slaughtered over 10,000 whales for "scientific" purposes over the years – "cloaking commercial whaling in a labcoat of science." Japan says whale hauls in the Southern Ocean are at record lows because of "unforgivable sabotage" by Sea Shepherd, which has been blocking them in the high seas.
"To allow killing in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – an internationally designated sanctuary – is to make a mockery of international agreements made by countries who established the sanctuary in 1994," says Sea Shepherd.
At the time, all 23 member countries of the International Whaling Commissions signed an agreement that no whales would be killed, including Japan.
"Despite the moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan has continued to claim the lives of thousands of the gentle giants of the sea in a place that should be their safe haven," says Paul Watson, Founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Its international volunteer crew has been the only barrier between whales and Japanese harpoons in the hostile, remote waters of Antarctica. Whales – many of them pregnant – migrate through these waters every year.
Japan says it will abide by the court ruling. Sea Shepherd will return to the Antarctic in December to make sure.
"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," adds Watson.
Former Australia Environment Minister Peter Garrett initiated legal action in 2010.
Unfortunately, Japan could begin whaling again simply by withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission, which has threatened to do in the past. And the ruling only applies to the Antarctic, not the rest of the world’s oceans.
Greenpeace implemented a satellite-based tracking system that monitors endangered South Pacific humpback whales, saying there are other ways to study the animals, other than killing them.
Norway and Iceland Also Hunt Whales
Norway and Iceland also still hunt whales in violation of the treaty, but not under the guise of scientific research. They fully admit whaling is for commercial purposes, but they haven’t been meeting "quota" because demand is low.
In 2006, Iceland resumed commercial whaling to export products to Japan.
Surprisingly, President Obama chimed in this week, directing federal agencies to put pressure on Iceland to stop whaling.
President Obama says in a letter to Congress: "Iceland’s actions
jeopardize the survival of the fin whale, which is listed in CITES among the species most threatened with extinction, and they undermine multilateral efforts to ensure greater worldwide protection for whales…. Just as the United States made the transition from a commercial whaling nation to a whale watching nation, we must enhance our engagement to facilitate this change by Iceland."
Read the letter: