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.