Victory for whales at the International Court of Justice

Victory for whales at the International Court of Justice.It was a hugely ambitious decision by the government of Australia to take Japan to the International Court of Justice over its whaling in the Antarctic.

And Patrick Ramage and I watched in the court as it paid off spectacularly with victory for the whales.

RELATED: ICJ ruling on Japan's scientific whaling Storify news roundup

Japan’s 2013-2014 Antarctic season is now over and next year should be the first for more than a century when the whales of the Southern Ocean are left in peace with the slaughter ended. Japan was a latecomer into Antarctic whaling and by the time it started much of the damage had already been done. From three quarters of a million blue whales in this area only a few thousand remain.

But unlike other countries, Japan chose to continue whaling in this remote area. Japan’s programme of ‘research’ has continued since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, with more than 10,000 minke whales killed in the Southern Ocean. Even the decision by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to declare the Southern Ocean a sanctuary for whales was not enough to stop Japan’s whaling. Twenty-three nations voted in favour of the sanctuary at the 1994 meeting of the IWC and only Japan voted against.

The judgment of the court may seem long but it is disarmingly straightforward.

Paragraph 247 contains the judgment – a simple decision that Japan has failed to meet three binding decisions of the IWC simply because the special permits do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII (the provision in the IWC convention regarding ‘scientific whaling’).  Therefore the court decided that Japan should revoke all extant permits for its ‘scientific whaling’ in the Antarctic.

It doesn’t seem long ago that I was in the court, listening to the arguments of Australia and Japan in turn last June, sitting on the uncomfortable seats in the gallery above. Today, the judgment is clearly very uncomfortable for Japan but it also presents a huge opportunity. It is time for Japan to re-cast its research on whales in the Southern Ocean through non-lethal means.

Now, we need to see the best science Japan has to offer, designed to address the gaps in our knowledge in this remote area. Japan could join the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, and collaborate over studying whales humanely in just the same way that both countries do in other disciplines of Antarctic science.

It's said that victory finds a thousand fathers. There are many committed organisations and individuals around the world who helped secure this exciting win for whales. Anyone directly involved will readily acknowledge the work of the global whale team of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. This day would not have been achieved without our decade of committed effort, and none of it would have been possible without you.

--Vassili Papastavrou at the ICJ, The Hague

In the Issuu document embed below, you can read an academic accounting of our efforts in concert with the Government of Australia: Donald R. Rothwell , The Polar Journal (2013): The Antarctic Whaling case: litigation in the international court and the role played by NGOs, The Polar Journal, DOI: 10.1080/2154896X.2013.846978

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Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
IFAW Japan Representative
IFAW Japan Representative
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales