World court ruling reaffirms protection of Southern Ocean whales

Posted on 31 March 2014

ICJ demands an immediate end to whaling under the JARPA II programme
Gland, Switzerland – The International Court of Justice ruled today that Japan should immediately cease all whaling activities under its current scientific programme JARPA II. The decision is a major victory for whale protection efforts and a clear call for the end of hunting in the Southern Ocean.

The judgement in favour of Australia in the case against what Japan calls ‘scientific whaling’ came in a near unanimous ruling announced by the UN’s highest court. The ruling upholds Australia’s claim that Japanese whaling under its JARPA II program is in breach of its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

“The decision of the court will finally allow the purpose of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to be fulfilled,” said Aimée Leslie, Global Cetacean and Marine Turtle Manager for WWF International. “Protecting whales in the Southern Ocean is essential to maintaining healthy whale populations around the world.”

In the ruling, the court determined that Japan’s programme was not designed to reach its stated objectives and that the special permits granted by Japan in connection to its whaling in the Southern Ocean are not for scientific research.

“Japan shall revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence granted in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that programme,” said Judge Peter Tomka in reading the decision.

As a result of the ruling, the Japanese government must end all whaling under their current programme in the Southern Ocean. The court’s decision is binding and cannot be appealed.

“The ruling of the court deserves to be celebrated and demands to be observed,” says Ghislaine Llewellyn, Conservation Manager for WWF-Australia. “Finally the unnecessary killing of whales in this critical whale feeding ground will stop.”

The Australian government initiated legal proceedings against Japan in 2010. The case alleged that scientific whaling by Japan is a violation of the country’s treaty obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling as well as other international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and the marine environment.

Commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986. The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica was declared a whale sanctuary eight years later. Despite these protections, Japan has hunted over 10,000 whales in the Southern Ocean since the moratorium was put in place.

“Today the world court decision has made the case for the enforcement of global agreements that protect biodiversity for generations to come,” added Leslie.

In addition to whaling, Southern Ocean whales are under threat by commercial fishing of prey species, noise pollution, chemical spills, ship strikes, and climate change. The uncertainty around Southern Ocean whale population numbers increases the importance of a precautionary approach to their management.
The president of the ICJ rules an end to Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.
© UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek. Courtesy of the ICJ.
Humpback whales.
Judges of the International Court of Justice declaring an end to current whaling in the Southern Ocean.
© UN Photo/CIJ-ICJ/Frank van Beek. Courtesy of the ICJ.
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), close-up. Drake Passage, South Pole, Antarctica.