Hearings have begun at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as Australia takes on Japanese whaling.
While commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986, whaling for the purpose of research is allowed through an exemption in the moratorium. Japan maintains that their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean is for scientific research, but Australia claims that the hunt is not only commercial whaling in disguise, but unsustainable for whale populations. Australia’s legal fight began in 2010, and will depend on these public hearings at The Hague.
“What Japan is doing in the Southern Ocean is patently for commercial purposes. The amount of catch they’re taking, which in the case of minke whales, they can take up to 935 minke whales a year. They also sell the product into various places in Japan,” said Bill Campbell, who according to Australia Network News, has advised the government on international law and the legality of Japan’s whaling program. Campbell says Australia has been preparing extensively for this case.
Australian attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, who is representing the country in this case, adds, “Australia’s views on whaling are well established. We strongly oppose all commercial whaling, including so-called ‘scientific’ whale hunting by Japan. We want to see the practice halted once and for all,” according to BBC News. The Australian government says over 10,000 whales have been killed by Japan’s fleet.
Japan’s spokesman Noriyuki Shikata maintains that Japan is hunting legally. “We have a scientific research programme in accordance with the convention on whaling and we are strictly abiding by the treaty obligations.” The IWC requires that non-lethal research be applied when possible, but Shikata claims that Japan’s lethal research is necessary. “Japan is conducting both non-lethal and lethal research program. Some of the data cannot be obtained by non-lethal means,” he adds.
Japan’s whale catch has continued to decline, mainly due to interference by anti-whaling activists. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is hopeful that the court will reflect the world’s views on whaling. Administrative Director for Sea Shepherd USA, Susan Hartland, said in their statement “Although the battle to defend whales is taking place in the Southern Hemisphere, people around the world are concerned about the ruling of this case – these are not just Australia’s whales, they are the world’s whales and we all have a vested interest in their survival and well-being. A loss in the World Court would be devastating to people worldwide who support the efforts to save the whales, and as more than 90% of the planet’s great whales have been wiped out, we need to fight hard to protect the remaining ones from the same fate.”
Australia hopes that the court will ban Japan’s annual Antarctic hunt before the whaling fleet heads to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in December. The decision will be binding, with no appeals – so the court’s ruling is being anxiously awaited by those on both sides of the heated whaling debate. The hearings, set to continue through July 16th, can be watched live online on the ICJ’s website here.