Japan's Whaling Harpooned by the International Court of Justice

Today the UN International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Antarctic is illegal.

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Even after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling, Japan has continued to kill whales – and sell the meat for profit – by exploiting a loophole in the convention that allows countries to take whales “for purposes of scientific research.”  Today’s decision finds in no uncertain terms that Japan’s hunt was NOT “for purposes of scientific research” and therefore in violation of international law and the IWC’s ban on commercial whaling.

This is a huge victory for whale conservation.  The landmark ruling means that thousands of whales will no longer be slaughtered under the guise of science.  It also means that whales will once again be safe in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

In a vote of 12 to 4, the court ruled that there were several aspects of Japan’s “scientific whaling” program – which has killed thousands of whales since its inception – that cast doubt “on its characterization as a programme for purposes of scientific research.”  Those factors include the fact Japan did not consider using non-lethal methods; the scale of Japan’s program and number of whales taken; the open-ended time frame of the program; its limited scientific output to date; and the lack of cooperation between Japan and other domestic and international research programs in the Antarctic Ocean.

The court then ordered Japan to revoke all permits and “license[s] to kill” in the Antarctic and refrain from granting any new permits.  The decision is final, with no possibility of appeal.

Commendably, Japan has said that it will abide by the decision.

This is a historic ruling that will revitalize our ongoing efforts to save the whales.  There are only three countries that still kill whales for commercial purposes – Japan, Iceland, and Norway.  Today’s decision sets the legal bar that there is no place for commercial whaling in the 21st Century.  Now is the time to end commercial whaling once and for all.

Photo Credit: NOAA

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Land and Wildlife Program

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