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International Court's NO, to Japanese Whaling
Apr 15, 2014

Recently, the International Court of Justice legally skewered Japan’s scientific whale hunts to the Antarctic Ocean. 12 of its 16 judges sided with Australia, which brought the case, saying that Japan had no scientific reason to cull about 1,000 Antarctic whales each year. The court noted that the research had produced just two peer-edited papers in a decade, in effect tugging away the figleaf used to keep Japan’s whaling programme alive since the international moratorium in 1986 which ended commercial hunts.

The Japan government has long argued that whaling is an ancient Japanese tradition. A report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare says Japan has in effect nationalised its whaling programme, subsidising it to the tune of $400m since 1988. Industrial whaling expanded after 1945, when a ravaged country was desperate for fresh sources of protein. 

The International Court’s decision comes at a key moment. Rising oil prices and extra security to protect the whaling fleet from attacks by militant environmentalists have pushed the cost of each annual Antarctic cull to over $10 million. The whaling industry is so desperate for funds—and so politically connected—that it managed to claim $28 million from tsunami relief funds in 2011, causing an international outcry. The whaling fleet badly needs a new mother ship, at a cost that would spark a domestic debate about the point of the campaign.

A fisheries agency in Japan says, Japan will abide by the decision but continue scientific whaling in the western North Pacific, a cull that yields about half that of the Antarctic catch. Japan has another option. It could follow Norway (which taught Japan industrial whaling a century ago) and Iceland by ignoring demands to stop killing whales. But unlike those countries, Japan withdrew its objection to the 1986 moratorium. Snubbing it now would also mean flouting several international sea treaties, with diplomatic consequences. 

 


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