In a historic victory for whales that has been years in the making, the United Nations’ highest court ruled on Monday that Japan’s whaling in Antarctica is illegal under international law and has to stop immediately.
The ruling, which was handed down by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, will end Japan’s scientific whaling program, which has targeted thousands of fin, minke and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary since it began.
Big thanks to Care2 member Jelena Radovanovic for creating a petition urging the court to end the whaling program and to the over 67,000 Care2 members who signed it.
Despite a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that was put in place in 1986, Japan has continued with annual whale hunts that it claims are being conducted to collect scientific data. Conservationists, however, have long argued that Japan has been abusing a loophole in the moratorium that allows for scientific research whaling.
In 2010, Australia challenged Japan with New Zealand’s support in the ICJ over Japan’s JARPA II research program, arguing it was just a cover for commercial whaling. The risk was big because there would be no appeal for whichever side lost, and if the court sided with Japan it would have been a huge blow to global campaigns against whaling.
Fortunately for whales, the court agreed with Australia, ruling that Japan was in breach of its international obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling by hunting and killing whales in the Southern Ocean.
Among other conclusions, the court found that Japan had no justification for the quota of whales it was setting annually, had failed to consider non-lethal alternatives and that the research program fell seriously short on science.
The court ordered Japan to revoke existing permits or licenses related to its scientific whaling program and refrain from granting any in the future.
Although the ruling won’t stop whaling entirely, it will make the Southern Ocean the safe haven for whales it was intended to be and is being applauded by whale advocates and conservationists around the world.
“With today’s ruling, the ICJ has taken a fair and just stance on the right side of history by protecting the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the vital marine ecosystem of Antarctica, a decision that impacts the international community and future generations,” said Captain Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global.
Whether or not whaling itself is environmentally sustainable, many now argue that it’s not an economically viable option for Japan anymore and that it’s only still around because it’s being largely subsidized by the government.
Even if the court had sided with Japan, a drastically declining demand for whale meat poses another huge problem for the industry and has raised hope that decreasing appetites for whale meat will help kill the international market. According to the AP, the amount of whale meat stockpiled for lack of demand has nearly doubled over 10 years, with about 4,600 tons stockpiled at the end of 2012.
While Japanese officials say they will abide by the ruling, Sea Shepherd stated that it will have ships ready to return to the Southern Ocean to defend whales next winter just in case.
Care2 member Jelena Radovanovic helped influence the outcome of the ruling by simply starting a petition and putting pressure on the court to take action. If there’s an issue you care about, you can make a difference by starting your own petition.
Photo credit: Thinkstock