Japan lost a court case Monday lodged by Australia seeking an end to Japanese whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, as the U.N. court ruled Japan's whaling is not conducted for scientific purposes and ordered it to stop.
The judgment by the International Court of Justice in The Hague is binding and final without appeal, forcing Japan to drastically change the whaling program it has claimed is for "scientific research." The decision does not apply to whaling in the Pacific Ocean, but the ruling is likely to deal a severe blow to the whole whaling industry amid strong criticism from Western countries.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said in a statement that Tokyo is "deeply disappointed" by the decision that ordered the country to "revoke" any permit or license for whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. But he said Japan will comply with the decision as a country that respects the rule of law.
Koji Tsuruoka, a government official who represented the Japanese side in the case, told reporters that the government will carefully study the ruling and consider a proper response.
Matthew Collis, marine campaigns manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told Kyodo News in Sydney that the decision is a "major victory for whaling conservation in international law" and called on Tokyo to "abide by the court's ruling."
Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, told Kyodo the ICJ ruling was the correct one.
"Sea Shepherd has been upholding the Australian Federal Court ruling and the International Court has just acknowledged what Japan is doing is illegal. It's a real testament to Sea Shepherd and all its supporters and Capt. Paul Watson, all these years and his efforts," Hansen said, adding he hopes Japan will respect the decision.
"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," he said.
Japan, which has continued its "scientific" whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean since 1987, insisted that the program is consistent with Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling that permits research whaling, and that selling whale meat is also permitted by the article as it requires any whales taken to be processed as far as practicable.
But a 16-judge panel at the court stated that Japan's "killing, taking and treating of whales...are not for purposes of scientific research" as the way Japan decided on the number of whales to be taken as samples was "not driven by strictly scientific considerations," supporting Australia's claim that Japan's priority was "to maintain whaling operations without any pause."
The court also noted that the scientific aspect of Japan's whaling program is being undermined by its limited scientific output to date and the open-ended time frame of the program, while pointing out that there has not been enough cooperation between Japan and other domestic and international researchers over species in the Antarctic Ocean.
Among the 16 judges, 12 -- including ones from Russia and China -- supported the verdict. The four judges who opposed it were Japan's Hisashi Owada, and judges from France, Morocco and Somalia.
Since 1987, Japan has taken an average of 400 minke whales every year from the Antarctic Ocean, according to Fisheries Agency data.
In 2005 Japan set an annual target of 935 minke whales, and whalers took 853 of the mammals in 2005 and 679 in 2008. However, its annual catch plunged to 103 in 2012, with government officials citing antiwhaling activities as a cause.
After a moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission came into force in 1986, Japan continued whale hunting under quotas set by the Japanese government, saying collecting scientific data was necessary for sustainable use of whale resources.
Japan wanted to resume commercial whaling suspended by the moratorium, and by conducting "scientific whaling" it has sought to provide evidence to end the moratorium. But there is now little possibility for Japan to achieve that goal, with the court stating that Japan has "violated" the moratorium.
Currently, Norway and Iceland hunt whales commercially, either under objection to the moratorium or under reservation to it, according to the IWC.
Australia, one of the most vocal countries against whaling, used to be engaged in commercial whaling. But the country changed its stance drastically in 1979, banned all whaling, and vowed to work to stop other countries from whaling.