A humpback whale in Antarctica (photo credit: Chris Parsons)
Earlier this year the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” in Antarctica (the JARPA II research program, to give its official title) was illegal. Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling allows the lethal take of whales for scientific research purposes by “special permit.” The ICJ ruled, however, that the Japanese program was in violation of this provision, because JARPA II was not bona fide scientific research but was instead de facto commercial whaling.
The Japanese Government initially stated that it would abide by the ICJ’s decision and discontinue JARPA II, but then later announced it would conduct a new research program in the Antarctic (JARPA III?). This sudden turnabout was less based on science or market forces than politics, no doubt – sales of whale meat in Japan have been declining and there is currently a warehoused surplus. It may have also been influenced by NGOs (specifically Sea Shepherd) publicly claiming to have “defeated” the Japanese Government and forced them to end the Antarctic hunt (for the record, Sea Shepherd was not involved in the ICJ court case at all, and can claim no responsibility for the outcome). For the fiercely proud and nationalistic Japanese politicians, to have a small NGO – which they have labelled a “terrorist organization” – beat them would be politically untenable.
Early this morning, the International Court of Justice declared that Japan’s scientific whaling program in Antarctica violates the International Whaling Commission moratorium, and ordered Japan to stop. This is big news for the marine conservation community, but like many legal policy decisions, it can be difficult to determine exactly what it means. I asked marine mammal biologists, conservation activists, and policy experts to help explain it.
What is the International Court of Justice (ICJ)? The International Court of Justice is essentially the judicial branch of the United Nations. Any of the 192 United Nations member states may submit a case against any other state.
What is the International Whaling Commission (IWC)? The International Whaling Commission is a regulatory body that was founded in 1946 as a result of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling treaty. The 88 member nations (any nation can join) regulate whaling and whale conservation issues.
What is “scientific whaling?” Scientific whaling refers to intentionally killing a whale for the purpose of scientific research. According to marine mammal researcher Jake Levenson, this is permitted by Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. According to Levenson, “In the 1940’s [when this rule was made,] we didn’t have many of the tools we have now to study whales, so at the time it was thought to be appropriate to kill whales for scientific purposes.” Several experts I spoke to noted that this was never intended to be a large-scale program. Here is a list of some of the scientific research that resulted from the program.