Japan has cancelled its annual Antarctic whaling hunt for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, in line with a UN court ruling that the program was a commercial activity disguised as science.
Tokyo said it would honour Monday’s judgement by the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague, but did not exclude the possibility of future whaling programs.
On Thursday, officials said the next Antarctic hunt, which would have started later this year, had been scrapped, just weeks after the most recent one finished.
“We have decided to cancel research whaling [in the Antarctic] for the fiscal year starting in April because of the recent ruling,” a fisheries agency official told AFP. But he added that “we plan to go ahead with research whaling in other areas as scheduled”, including the northern Pacific. Japan also has a coastal whaling program that is not covered by a commercial whaling ban.
Australia, backed by New Zealand, hauled Japan before the ICJ in 2010 in a bid to end the annual Southern Ocean hunt.
Tokyo has used a legal loophole in the 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allowed it to continue slaughtering the mammals, ostensibly so it could gather scientific data.
However, it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts can end up on dining tables.
Public consumption of whale meat in Japan has steadily fallen in recent years.
Japan had argued that its JARPA II research program was aimed at studying the viability of whale hunting, but the ICJ found it had failed to examine ways of doing the research without killing whales, or at least while killing fewer of them.
On Wednesday, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said his government would abide by the court ruling, but added that the ruling was “a pity and I am deeply disappointed.”
Some legal experts have suggested Japan might simply redesign its whaling program to skirt the ICJ ruling, but Australia and New Zealand are expected to keep up the diplomatic pressure to ensure Tokyo abides by the spirit of the pronouncement.