International Court of Justice Declares Japanese Antarctic Whaling Illegal

After a four-year wait, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its ruling on Australia’s challenge to Japan’s scientific whaling program in the Antarctic (known as JARPA II). The ruling, issued March 31 in The Hague, The Netherlands, by a vote of 12–4, concluded that JARPA II does not comply with Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (the article authorizing whaling for scientific research).

In reaching this conclusion, the ICJ was critical of JARPA II for its (1) open-ended time frame; (2) limited scientific output; and (3) failure to (a) consider non-lethal methods, (b) justify the large sample sizes, or (c) coordinate with other national and international research programs.

The ruling is a significant a victory for whales and vindicates those countries and groups, including AWI, who have cried foul over Japan’s abuse of Article VIII—using it as a veil to cover its commercial whaling in the Antarctic. The ICJ decided that Japan “shall revoke any extant authorization, permit or license granted in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that program.”

An international moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented in 1986 and has saved hundreds of thousands of whales from slaughter—and likely prevented the extinction of some stocks. Unfortunately, Japan, Norway, and Iceland have elected to ignore this moratorium.

While Japan initially responded to the ruling by announcing that it will not participate in a 2014–2015 Antarctic whaling program, it has subsequently signaled its intent to revise the JARPA II program for a return to the Antarctic. Even if Japan’s whalers do not return to the Southern Ocean, the nation continues to kill whales, including endangered Bryde’s and sei whales, in the North Pacific. Meanwhile, Iceland and Norway slaughter whales for commercial purposes in the North Atlantic. We need to remain vigilant in our efforts to bring about a world that is commercial whaling-free.