Japan will officially withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), with the intention to resume commercial whaling in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in July 2019. Japan will also cease whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean and hunt species with so-called "healthy" population numbers. Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium. But Japan has used a loophole to continue hunting whales legally since 1987 for what it claims is scientific research. So the international agreement never stopped Japanese whaling, because it allowed the country to continue killing whales for scientific research while selling the meat. Iceland and Norway object to the moratorium and continue to hunt whales commercially without relying on science as an excuse.
The ICJ-ruling drew praise from environmental groups, including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sent ships to the remote and icy waters to block and harass Japan’s whaling fleet. “We are very happy with the backing of the International Court,” Geert Vons, a representative of Sea Shepherd, said after leaving the courtroom. “We had never expected such a strong ruling.” From 2005 to 2017, Sea Shepherd used its own ships to try to interfere with Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic. As the Japanese news media reported last month that a withdrawal from the whaling commission was being considered, Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd’s founder, said in a statement that he considered it good news. He said it would end Japan’s activities in the Antarctic while making Sea Shepherd’s “objective of shutting down these poachers much easier. This means that Japan is now openly declaring their illegal whaling activities. No more pretense of research whaling. With this announcement, Japan has declared themselves as a pirate whaling nation.”
Sam Annesley, Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan, condemned the government’s decision and said: “It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is. The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling."
Despite leaving the International Whaling Commission, Japan will still be bound by certain international laws. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) binds countries to co-operate on the conservation of whales "through the appropriate international organisations for their conservation, management and study". The text does not say which international organisation that is.
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Gogarty, B. and Lawrence, P., "The ICJ Whaling Case: Missed Opportunity to Advance the Rule of Law in Resolving Science-Related Disputes in Global Commons", Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV), 77 (2017), No. 1, pp. 161-197.
- Hoey, L., "The Battle over Scientific Whaling: A New Proposal to Stop Japan's Lethal Research and Reform the International Whaling Commission", William and Mary environmental law & policy review, 41 (2017), No. 2, pp. 435-470.L
- Liu, D., "The Antarctic Whaling Case and the International Law on the Regulation of Whaling", in Nordquist, M.H., Moore, J.N. and Long, R. (eds.), International Marine Economy: Law and Policy, Leiden, Brill Nijhoff, 2017, pp. 363-387.
- Mbengue, M.M., "Scientific Fact-finding at the International Court of Justice: An Appraisal in the Aftermath of the Whaling Case", Leiden journal of international law, 29 (2016), No. 2, pp. 529-550.
- Nishimoto, K., "Japan’s Act of 2017 on Research Whaling", Asia-Pacific journal of ocean law and policy, 3 (2018), No. 1, pp. 126-131.
- Scholtz, W., "Killing Them Softly? Animal Welfare and the Inhumanity of Whale Killing", Journal of international wildlife law and policy, 20 (2017), No. 1, pp. 18-37.
- Scott, S.V. and Oriana, L.M., "Resisting Japan's Promotion of a Norm of Sustainable Whaling", in Bloomfield, A. and Scott, S.V. (eds.), Norm antipreneurs and the politics of resistance to global normative change, London, Routledge, 2017, pp. 108-124.