Two things to remember as the World Court rules on Japan’s whaling

A member of the Government of Japan's legal team presents their case at the International Court of Justice. c. ICJ Media Center I check my iPhone during my layover at Heathrow Airport en route to the Netherlands. The media coverage has already started down undah’.  The speculation has been building for months -- whether from government officials, learned legal experts, hopeful whale huggers or the loud but dwindling chorus of supporters for high-seas “scientific” whaling.   

On Monday morning, March 31st, at 10 a.m. European time, the 15 justices of the World Court, aka the International Court of Justice or ICJ, will file into the Great Hall of Justice of the ornate “Peace Palace” in The Hague, NL to deliver their judgment in the case of Australia versus Japan.  

At issue is Japan’s so-called “scientific” whaling in the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica. The Government of Japan claims it can lawfully kill as many whales as it likes, so long as they are killed in the name of science. Australia, New Zealand and conservation-minded countries around the world have long criticized this practice and called upon Japan to stop. Last June, after years of preparatory briefs and written arguments, world class legal teams for Australia, supported by New Zealand, and Japan argued the case. Nine months later, the moment is pregnant with possibility.  

Whatever justice for whales the esteemed jurists mete out, there are two things we all should remember as we consider whether their verdict changes things for whales swimming in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and worldwide.  

Commercial whaling won’t be ended by court order.

The decision that finally ends the killing of whales for commercial purposes isn’t going to be made in The Hague. Nor will it be made on the floor of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an intergovernmental body that moved to halt the outmoded practice when it set all catch limits to zero in 1986.

Whale meat for sale in a Japanese market. c. IFAW

The decision will not be made in Washington, London, Canberra or Wellington, or on boats bumping into each other in the Southern Ocean. The decision finally to end commercial whaling must (and most assuredly will) be made in Tokyo, Oslo and Reykjavik by Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic decision-makers; who will make that judgment based on reasons and arguments that make sense to them. Firm, forthright and respectful engagement with these leaders will accelerate this shift. 

Whatever the court decides, whales will still face more threats than ever before.

All well and good to point out the horrific cruelty and unsustainability of commercial whaling. Whatever the world court decides, IFAW and other committed organizations will continue to do so, criticizing taxpayer-funded schemes that prop up this dying industry and exposing ongoing attempts to resuscitate the international trade in whale meat.

But wailing about whaling is not enough.

Whales and their habitats face many other threats; threats they cannot afford for us to ignore:  entanglement in outmoded fishing gear, ship strikes and collisions with high-speed vessels, degradation of critical habitat areas, ocean noise pollution and an array of other 21st century challenges that affect the welfare and well-being of whale and other vulnerable species on the ocean planet, including our own.

For an introduction to the leading threats to whales, and a peek at what IFAW is calling on the US government to do to better address them, click here.

So I’m excited as I wait to board my connecting flight to Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. All told, it will have taken almost 24 hours of planes, trains and automobiles to get myself to The Hague to sit in on the judgment and meet with media, government representatives and other NGO advocates there.  

From the Great Hall of Justice and our offices around the world, team IFAW will be tweeting, texting, blogging and sending out emails and press releases chronicling the Court’s decision, whether the news for whales is good, bad or mixed.

Tomorrow is judgment day.

A historic case, years in the making, is coming to a close. A positive decision could end decades of Antarctic whaling conducted for products almost nobody wants, in the name of science almost no one respects. That would be very good news for whales and anyone who cares about them. But whatever justice the World Court hands down for whales Monday, they will still need us Tuesday and beyond. 

All of us at IFAW are grateful that you stand shoulder to shoulder with us in helping them.


Follow IFAW’s update on the ICJ case using the Storify below. Having trouble seeing the Storify embed? Click here.



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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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