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Science is no excuse for Japan’s Antarctic whaling, court rules

Japan’s hugely controversial ‘scientific whaling’ programme is not actually scientific and must be stopped, the International Court of Justice ruled today.

The judgement represents a victory for Australia, which brought the case against Japan, and the conservationists and researchers who have for years maintained that this whaling programme was merely a commercial hunt given a veneer of legality through science.

Since the late 1980s Japan has aimed to catch hundreds of minke whales, plus smaller numbers of other species, in the waters around Antarctica. Japan has previously claimed that its fleet catches whales to study the populations and that the numbers of the animals it catches are small enough to not damage the overall health of the species. This would be allowed under provisions related to scientific research in the international convention that governs commercial whaling.

But the court’s judgement — handed down today in The Hague, the Netherlands — says that although the Antarctic whaling programme can “broadly be characterized as scientific research”, the evidence doesn’t establish that it is reasonable in relation to its stated objectives. In particular, the court notes that there is no evidence that non-lethal methods have been examined, that explanations for the number of animals killed were weak and that there has been “limited scientific output to date” from the programme

“The Court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II [the Antarctic whaling programme] are not ‘for purposes of scientific research’…,” says the judgement.

Norway and Iceland both have commercial whaling fleets, but do not claim a scientific justification. There are also numerous subsistence hunts in Denmark, Russia and the United States. However, the Japanese hunt has attracted the more international attention than those hunts. Whether today’s judgement will actually halt the country’s commercial hunt remains to be seen.

UPDATE, 1 April 2014

A fisheries report released today by the European Parliament highlights exactly how many whales Japan has caught over the years, in the Antarctic and under another whaling programme in the Pacific. According to media reports, Japan’s representative at the court has said the country could still continue its Pacific whaling.

whale graph jpeg
Source: Fisheries in Japan report.


  1. Report this comment

    James Vance said:

    Since most of the historical populations among all cetacean species globally have been hunted mercilessly to very near the point of extinction for some (or merely threatened for the remainder) over the span of two centuries, there really is no scientific purpose in the continuation of open-seas hunting on an industrial scale with commercial ships. Limited historic cultural practices of subsistence hunting among a small number of human populations from small, littoral craft with traditional methods may be tolerable for some species locally, but humans simply cannot continue to allow any commercial or pseudo-commercial “scientific” hunts of any cetaceans in the future.

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    Seiichi MYOGA said:

    According to a Japanese news agency called Jiji Press, the Japanese whaling fleet is scheduled to depart on Apr. 26 to do research in the Pacific Northwest. They are going to catch fewer whales than planned: the catches were set originally at 60 whales. Reportedly, the purpose is to collect scientific data necessary to resume commercial whaling. This may be the answer to:
    “Whether today’s judgement will actually halt the country’s commercial hunt remains to be seen.”

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    Seiichi MYOGA said:

    I’m sorry. Let me correct the planned number of catches in the Pacific Northwest for fiscal 2014. The exact number “will be slashed to about 210, including some 100 minke whales in coastal waters off Japan, from the initially planned 380, the ministry said. (Jiji Press Apr. 18, 2014:”
    In case you’re interested, the number “60” in my last post comes from this source (Jiji Press Apr. 17, 2014:

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