WWF-Canada Blog:

Whaling on Trial

The most important environmental law case in years, Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan, New Zealand intervening),   just concluded at the International Court of Justice.  Tune in to the webcasts  for fascinating viewing.

Each year, Japan has a permit that allows it to hunt and kill up to 850 minke whales on factory ships in the Southern Ocean for scientific research purposes ( the “JARPA II” program) , despite a moratorium imposed on commercial whaling in 1986. After years of inconclusive wrangling in the International Whaling Commission and unsuccessful diplomatic pressure, Australia brought Japan to court. The charge is that Japan is violating the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Dwarf minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata.  Great Barrier Reef & Coral Sea, Australia  © Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon

Dwarf minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Great Barrier Reef & Coral Sea, Australia © Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon

Australia  argues that the whaling cannot be justified under Article VIII of the treaty which allows countries to catch whales if they are needed for legitimate scientific research, and has  asked the Court to order Japan to cease implementation of its scientific research whaling program in the Southern Ocean, revoke any authorizations, permits or licenses allowing the whaling activities, and provide assurances and guarantees that it will not take any further action under the JARPA II or any similar program until such program has been brought into conformity with its obligations under international law .

Drama runs high amidst the pomp and ceremony of the Peace Palace in The Hague, home of the International Court. Accusations are hurled back and forth between the bewigged barristers. Australia  aids and abets the Sea Shepherd Society’s attacks on whaling, says Japan’s counsel.  Australia counters that “Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” adding that this is a parody of science, not a program of science.

Sixteen judges preside over in the chandeliered courtroom. Arguing the case are some of the world’s most prominent international environmental lawyers. Newly returned Australian Prime Minister Rudd committed the Government to explore international legal options to halt Japan’s whaling back in 2007.

Japan says the treaty gives it the sole right to determine the scope of its research, and that killing the whales is needed for the scientific research program that aims to establish if whales are recovering from previous over-hunting. Australia counters that you can’t run a science program if you can’t explain why 850 whales must be killed each year, and points to nonlethal research methods: satellite tagging, short term tagging and biopsies.

Wendy Elliot, of WWF International’s species programme, commended Australia , saying: “WWF is fully opposed to so-called scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean, one of the most important areas for whales on this planet, and the site of previous relentless and devastating slaughters, from which most Southern Ocean whales are still far from recovered.”  At the close of the case yesterday she commented: “Since the whaling treaty was signed there have been great scientific advances that allow data about whales to be obtained through non-lethal means. The International Court of Justice has heard abundant evidence on why hunting hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean is not necessary for science. In this day and age there is no reason to kill whales for scientific research and WWF strongly hopes for a positive ruling by the court that will end whaling in the Southern Ocean.”

The public hearings ended on July 16th. The Court is expected to render its judgement in around six months.