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Australia Is Taking Japan to Court to Stop Whaling

It's Australia versus Japan in an upcoming hearing at the United Nations to cease whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Image via Ryan Buterbaugh

Japan, which has long skirted whaling bans due to a claimed research exception, is now due to appear in the UN's International Court of Justice, at the behest of Australia. The two countries are preparing to duke it out over Japan's annual slaughter in the Southern Ocean of about 1,000 whales.

New Zealand will act as an intermediary at the ICJ in The Hague, where a three week argument between the two nations is scheduled to take place.


Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus spoke to media about the upcoming hearings, explaining Australia's wish to end the slaughter. Dreyfus today told the Australian that "Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan's whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law."

Japanese vessels have been catching its whales for years in Antarctica under a special permit via the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a document that, as a Japanese media correspondent explained to the BBC, "is the founding document of the International Whaling Commission."

The IWC is the commission that sets the rules for who can whale and how large their catch can be. Also, if you haven't seen documentary The Cove yet, the IWC is the organization that director Louie Psihoyos and ex-Flipper-star-turned-activist Ric Barry heroically interrupt.

In that doc–which ought to be screened by Australia in the UN's court–we learn how Japan extended benefits to some African nations, in return for their support for whaling. Of course, Japan isn't the only whaling nation with permission to whale, as Norway and Iceland also have special licenses to kill whales.

A fresh piece of whale meat, choc-full of mercury and ready for research. Image via Bernt Rostad

Even as a major country has finally challenged Japan's transparent claim that its whale industry fishes for "research," Japan has lost its appetite for the marine mammals. Whale meat has been taken off the menu in Japan's school cafeterias, and out of most of Japanese food retailers. The raising of awareness has given traction to vigilant groups like Sea Shepherd, who campaign to intercept the whalers, shooting potato guns at their big boats. Japan has lamented record lows this year in its whaling project, pegging the blame on such "unforgivable sabotage," even as the industry is losing tons of government cash.

It seems this could be the beginning of the end for Japan's large-scale whale hunt. Although it could take months to enact any ruling that could take place as a result of these hearings, much of the world's anti-whaling activists and whale-lovers will eagerly await the ICJ sessions results.