Japan's "scientific" Antarctic whaling programme is commercial whaling in disguise, and should be banned, the UN International Court of Justice has ruled.
Australia had filed a case with the ICJ in May 2010, arguing that Japan's programme is not part of any scientific research. Japan currently catches around 1,000 whales a year, with more than 10,000 killed since 1988.
The JARPA II permit which allows the scientific killing of whales allowed Japan to kill an unlimited number of the creatures in the Antarctic.
The court has found "no evidence of any studies of the feasibility or practicability of non-lethal methods" for Japan's so-called scientific research.
"The Court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not 'for purposes of scientific research,'" the court's statement said.
Japan has violated:
- the moratorium on catch limits above zero for minke whales, fin whales and humpback whales
- the prohibition of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary in each of the seasons during which fin whales have been taken.
The ICJ has forbidden the granting of further permits under JARPA II.
"In light of the fact that JARPA II has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited," said presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia.
Tomka said the court had been persuaded that Japan's whaling was done for logistical and political gain, not scientific imperative.
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The ICJ's ruling is final and there can be no appeal, and the programme will now be halted so it can be revised.
Japan has previously said it would abide by the court's ruling.
But it does not mean the end of whaling, according to the Japan Times. Japan has a second, smaller program in the northern Pacific.
Arguing the case, the Australian government's counsel, Bill Campbell QC, told the 21 judges that "Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science. It simply is not science."
Japan claimed it had a right under the convention to continue whaling. Japan's legal counsel Payam Akhavan said: "Australia has politicised science in order to impose Australian values on Japan in disregard for international law."
Reaction to the court's ruling in Japan has so far been one of disappointment.
Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry said the country "regrets and is deeply disappointed" by the decision.
But "as a state that respects the rule of law ... and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the ruling of the court," he said.
A local whale meat restaurant owner told Bloomberg that he could "not accept the verdict".
"However you look at it, it’s unreasonable to say we can’t catch them. If you say you feel sorry for the whales, it’s the same when you eat other types of animals," Yutaka Sunaga, who runs the Kujiraya Taiju whale meat restaurant in Chiba, near Tokyo, said.
Whaling in Japan dates from the 12th century, but has been carried out on an industrial scale since the 1890s.