Japan and the whaling court ruling: not a great victory, but better than expected

Several months ago we posted about in interesting case in front of The International Court of Justice at The Hague—about whaling. Specifically the Australian government had petitioned the court to prevent Japan from whaling in waters designated as a protection area for whales by the Australian government in the Southern Ocean. Japan has been continuing its whaling practices for several decades under the guise of “scientific research” in spite of a formal ban on whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Well, yesterday the International Court of Justice, in a strong opinion that probably surprised even the most ardent supporters of Australia’s suit, essentially called bullshit on Japan’s policies.

Let The Guardian take over here:

The International Court of Justice has ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s annual slaughter of whales in the southern ocean after concluding that the hunts are not, as Japan claims, conducted for scientific research.
The UN court’s decision, by a 12-4 majority among a panel of judges, casts serious doubt over the long-term future of the jewel in the crown of Japan’s controversial whaling programme.

This is a pretty strong majority. Note that it’s a fairly limited ruling—the court did not find that the concept of scientific whaling was faulty, simply Japan’s execution of it:

In a lengthy ruling, the presiding judge in the Hague, Peter Tomka, said Japan had failed to prove that its pursuit of hundreds of mainly minke whales in Antarctic waters every winter – under a programme known as Jarpa II – was for scientific purposes.
“The evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives,” Tomka said.
“The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with Jarpa II are not for purposes of scientific research,” he added, before ordering Japan to cease its whaling programme “with immediate effect”.

Japan has indicated that it will abide by the ruling. However, it has also indicated that it may pursue a smaller whale hunt in response to the ruling, since it was the size and scope of Japan’s “scientific whaling” program, not the concept underlying it, that formed the basis of the court’s ruling.

This ruling also probably has put the kebash on the “scientific whaling” programs Russia and Korea have apparently been contemplating. It will, however, have no impact on the whaling practices currently conducted by Norway and Iceland—they have chosen to not be part of the International Whaling Commission, and are therefore not bound by its policies. It will also have no impact whatsover on the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan. The Guardian helpfully provides a compendium of responses to the decision here.

All of which means that Japan may be back in the oceans before too long, just not in as much force as before. So it’s a victory, then, but perhaps not as large a victory as it could have been. Still, it’s a better victory than anyone probably really expected, and I’ll take whatever victories we can get these days. And, hey, Australia? Thanks.

The stamp above is of a Minke whale, the whale targeted by Japan for harvest. This is a dual issue stamp, issued simultaneously by Chile and Estonia. How these two countries got together to issue stamps is anybody’s guess.