In a case initiated by Australia the United Nations top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), has ruled that Japan must stop its whaling program in the Antarctic.
In 1986 the International Whaling Commision (IWC) moratorium banned commercial whaling, but allowed whaling provided that it was carried out only for research purposes. Japanese fleets have a scientific permit for a quota of up to 935 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 50 fin whales. The latter are an endangered species. Japan were accused by Australia of exploiting this loophole in order to mask commercial whaling as scientific research; since the IWC moratorium they have killed 10,439 minke whales, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. During the hearing, the Australian government's counsel Bill Campbell said "In short, Japan seems to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science. It is simply not science." Japan has denied this accusation, but admits that the meat from these activities is being consumed in Japan. They claim that they are conducting research aimed at investigating the viability of whale hunting, but the ICJ decided that they had failed to find a way of reducing the number of whales they kill.
Despite the IWC moratorium Iceland and Norway still have commercial whaling programs. Norway is allowed to hunt because of an objection to the ban, whereas Iceland left the IWC in 1992. It is claimed that over 30,000 whales have been killed since 1986 despite the ban imposed. Japan strongly defends the consumption of whale meat, stating that it is an important part of their culinary tradition. They argue that the whales killed are not under threat therefore their activities are sustainable, but as mentioned the fin whale is an endangered species so this is simply not the case. They vowed that they would never stop whaling, but have disappointedly agreed to this ban. Chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka told reporters "As a state that respects the rule of law... and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the decision of the court." Alongside whaling activities, coastal fishermen in Japan kill up to 20,000 small cetaceans each year such as dolphins, and also import endangered fin whale meat from Iceland.
The environmental group Sea Shepherd has been attempting to subvert whaling efforts in Southern seas prior to this court decision. Last year, Japan claimed that they experienced an all time low from their whaling activities because of sabotage by Sea Shepherd.
Although this is good news, Japan is still able to whale in Northern waters under the same loophole. If they manage to design a more believable scientific proposal for their whaling activities, they may also eventually be allowed to return to Southern oceans.