DEN HAAG, Nederlands––The 16-member International Court of Justice, the chief judicial organ of the United Nations, on March 31, 2014 ruled by a vote of 12-4 that Japan “shall revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence granted” to allow whaling in the Antarctic region, “and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that program.”
Ruling against Japan on behalf of Australia, with New Zealand as an intervenor alongside Australia, the International Court of Justice in a judgment which stipulates that it is “final, without appeal and binding on the parties,” found unanimously that it had jurisdiction to consider the case, filed on May 31, 2010.
The International Court of Justice then found in a series of three 12-4 verdicts that Japan had issued “research whaling” permits in violation of rules set by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
International Court of Justice president Peter Tomka told media that the court “was persuaded that Japan had conducted a program for logistical and political considerations, rather than scientific research,” summarized Andrew Darby of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Japanese whalers killed 10,439 minkes and 15 fin whales under self-issued scientific permits between the 1986 International Whaling Commission introduction of a global whaling moratorium and the end of the 2013 whaling season, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The 2014 toll has not yet been disclosed.
Said Japanese fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, “We are going to carefully examine the content of the ruling and decide what we’ll do.”
Cautioned Mari Yamaguchi of Associated Press, “The ruling only affects an Antarctic hunt, and Japan can continue research hunts of about 300 minke whales in the North Pacific and around the Japanese coast. Japan could come up with and seek approval for an alternative plan for research whaling in the Antarctic. Japanese fisheries officials have hinted they may come up with a new research program that would scale back the catch quota and specify research details and methods to justify it as scientific. Japan hunted between 300 and 440 minke whales in the Antarctic for nearly two decades,” Yamaguchi noted, “after starting the research hunts in 1987. But in 2005, the country more than doubled the quota, inviting harsher protests. The ruling did not touch on the legality of Japan’s lower 1987-2004 catch quota, which could be a benchmark for a new program.”
However, Yamaguchi mentioned, “Japan already has a huge stockpile of whale meat because of a sharp fall-off in consumption. At the end of 2012, about 4,600 tons remained in freezers at major Japanese ports. Planned imports of whale meat from Iceland are also expected to keep it from disappearing from the market.”
Agence France-Presse reported on April 2, 2014 that an unidentified fisheries agency official had told the agency, “We have decided to cancel research whaling (in the Antarctic) for the fiscal year starting in April because of the recent ruling,” but “plan to go ahead with research whaling in other areas as scheduled,” including in the northern Pacific.
Shopping portal drops whale meat
One day after the International Court of Justice verdict, the Japanese e-commerce site Rakuten Ichiba notified users that it will stop accepting ads for whale and dolphin meat, effective at the end of April. A press release accompanying the announcement said the decision to exclude ads for whale and dolphin meat was made in “accordance with the March 31, 2014, ruling by the International Court of Justice.”
Rakuten will also prohibit selling other whale and dolphin products and byproducts, including those made from skin, bones and appendages, the announcement sent to sellers said.
The British-based Environmental Investigation Agency had earlier in March 2014 initiated a social media campaign against Rakuten for selling products from whales, dolphins, and elephants. The Environmental Investigation Agency reported that Rakuten had in June 2013 posted more than 1,200 ads for whale meat and 28,000 ads for elephant ivory.
“With over 40,000 sellers, Rakuten Ichiba is the largest Internet shopping mall in Japan,” said the Kyodo News. “In May 2012, Rakuten led a $100 million round of investment in the popular social scrapbooking site Pinterest. It purchased the U.S. e-commerce company Buy.com in May 2010.”
Observed Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International president Wayne Pacelle, “Rakuten joins Amazon and Google in refusing to sell whale and dolphin products. The only remaining major Internet seller of whale and dolphin products in Japan now is Yahoo.”
Pacelle contended that “Humane Society International was the incubator” of the idea of taking Japanese “research” whaling to the International Court of Justice.
“Specifically,” Pacelle said, “As our HSI team in 1999 prepared for the 2000 IWC meeting in Adelaide, Australia, led by current HIS vice president Kitty Block, they crafted a legal argument laying the foundation to take Japan to the International Court of Justice. One hurdle was to find a country to bring the legal action. For a variety of reasons, we felt Australia was the right nation. We asked, and the Australian government accepted the challenge.”
U.S. opposed appeal to Court of Justice
The government of then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd filed the case in 2010, against the opposition of then opposition leader Tony Abbott, who is the current Australian prime minister, and U.S. International Whaling Commission delegation leader Monica Medina.
Said Medina, “This is a ‘bet-the-whales’ case,” with a high risk of losing.
“But a series of opinions by legal expert panels gathered by international wildlife conservation groups encouraged then-environment minister Peter Garrett,” recalled Andrew Darby. “He argued strongly inside the Rudd government for taking on Japan, WikiLeaks documents showed.”
“This is a truly historic decision and vindicates the decision and our action,” Garrett wrote to followers on Twitter.
Bethune & Sea Shepherds celebrate
“I am absolutely thrilled. Today will go down in history as a great day for whales, for conservation and for justice,” said Earthrace Conservation founder Pete Bethune, who attended the International Court of Justice hearings on the case in June 2013, and returned to hear the March 31, 2014 verdict.
Bethune suggested that the verdict “also halts any copycat programs from the likes of Russia and Korea, which, had the decision favored Japan, had been expected to introduce research whaling programs of their own.”
Sailing to confront the Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet as part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society protest flotilla, Bethune on January 6, 2010 lost his racing vessel, the Ady Gil, when it was rammed and cut in two by the whale-catcher Shonan Maru #2. On February 14, 2010, Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru #2 from a Jet Ski and handed the captain a bill for the loss of the Ady Gil. This action cost Bethune five months in a Japanese maximum-security prison.
Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Jeff Hanson lauded the International Court of Justice verdict “for the whales and for future generations. In the absence of law enforcement in the Southern Ocean,” Hanson said, “Sea Shepherd has been the only organization upholding the law in defense of the international whale sanctuary.”
The Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Steve Irwin on March 22, 2014 docked in Wellington and Hobart, Australia, after 94 days at sea. The 2014 Sea Shepherd campaign against Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters was the society’s 10th and longest.
The whaling fleet left the IWC-designated Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary surrounding Antarctica three days earlier. The factory ship Nisshin Maru and escort whale-catchers were expected to reach their home ports in Japan in mid-April.
Paul Watson awaits judgment on contempt charges
Sidelined by a preliminary injunction issued in December 2012 by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson hoped meanwhile that the court would accept findings of fact reported on February 1, 2014 by appellate commissioner Peter Shaw, to the effect that Watson had not violated the injunction.
The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research alleged that Watson, current and former Sea Shepherd board members, and the current Sea Shepherd administrative director were in contempt of court for events occurring at sea during the 2013 whaling season. Shaw heard the complaint in Seattle from October 28 through November 6, 2013.
Shaw concluded that “regardless of any action by Watson or anyone else with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society” in the U.S., “There was strong public and legal support for whale defense in Australia and, once the Sea Shepherd Australia board received a legal opinion that this court’s injunction did not bind Sea Shepherd Australia, it was inevitable that Sea Shepherd Australia would take over” the anti-whaling campaign. “Watson could not have prevented that from occurring,” Shaw wrote. “Ultimately, the responsibility for the incursions of the safety perimeter and any other violation of the injunction [alleged by the Institute of Cetacean Research] lies with Sea Shepherd Australia and the captains who reported to Sea Shepherd Australia, but plaintiffs have not sought a remedy in this court over Sea Shepherd Australia or those captains, and it is doubtful that jurisdiction exists to do so.”
Said a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society media release, “While Commissioner Shaw’s recommendations are welcome news for our founder, officers, directors, staff and supporters, the organization is aware that they are recommendations, and now awaits a ruling in the case by the three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that first issued the injunction.”