The UN's International Court of Justice has ordered Japan to halt its yearly whale hunt, a cruel practice that gives no consideration to the welfare of the animals. Japan is one of several countries that persisted in this practice after whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, in this case using "scientific research" as an excuse. But there is nothing scientific about whale killing, and the UN has called them out on it.
Currently, Japan's whaling program is killing about 1,000 whales a year under the guise of "scientific purposes." It was Australia that took the matter to the International Court this year, claiming the supposed research was little more than a ruse to circumvent the UN's whaling ban. The presiding judge, Peter Tomka, agreed that Japan's assertion that its whale hunt has a scientific basis is, by and large, false.
"The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives," Tomka remarked. He noted that it failed to justify the brutality of the killings, and that a moratorium on whaling would remain in place for Japan unless and until it could somehow produce a program with an actual basis in scientific research.
Japanese Foreign Ministry official Koji Tsuruoka said Japan will abide by the order. "While Japan is disappointed, it will abide by the judgment of the court as a state that places great importance on the international legal order," he said. However, he added that Japan "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision."
Among those who don't share that sentiment are animal rights activists and countries like Australia, who maintain that whale killing is immoral and unethical. Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale program, said the court decision is reason to rejoice, and could have an effect on other countries that ignored the UN's moratorium, like Norway and Iceland - two countries that still engage in commercial whaling outright.
"The ruling certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well," said Ramage. "I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity."
Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, "The International Court has just acknowledged that what Japan is doing is illegal. 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."
Greenpeace writer Tom Ganderton stated, "The news confirms what we've been saying all along: this lethal whaling program is not necessary, and is harmful to the health of our oceans. It's high time this industry was consigned to the history books. The Japanese government claims that whaling is a long-standing part of Japanese culture that the international community should not interfere with. But the Australian government was quick to challenge this idea, as Greenpeace has consistently done in the past. They pointed out that whaling only began there in the 1930s."
Moreover, said Ganderton, "The whale meat industry is dying in Japan. Statistics commissioned by Greenpeace Japan found that up to 80 percent of respondents disagreed with whaling. What's more, thousands of tons of whale meat today remain in frozen storage in Japan because demand is so low.
"We need an end to commercial whaling so we can turn the focus onto some of the big conservation challenges facing the world's remaining whale populations, like climate change and destructive fishing. We won't stop until this dying industry is ended for good."
Photo: Now that a whaling ban is truly in effect for Japan, activists call on the country to maintain the moratorium and stop the cruel practice for good. Cliff Owen/AP