UN bans Japan from whaling after it abused loopholes
Japan has been ordered to end its annual pursuit of whales in the Antarctic by UN judges who dismissed its long-repeated claims that the hunts are carried out for scientific research purposes.
In a landmark ruling that appeared to vindicate a four-year campaign against the hunts by Australia, the International Court of Justice concluded that Japan had misused a loophole in the ban on commercial whaling, which was introduced in 1986.
Under the ban an exception can be made for research programmes, with a ceiling on the number of whales that can be killed for this purpose.
The court said: "The evidence does not establish that the programme's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to its stated objectives."
The ban is officially temporary – although there is no date for it to be lifted – but is binding on Japan, with no possibility of appeal.
Up to 850 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales were killed each year by Japan, ostensibly to gather scientific data, and the government admits that many of these ended up on Japanese dining tables.
Australia presented evidence that Japan slaughtered more than 10,000 whales in total since 1989 under this pretext.
The issue marks a clash of cultures between East and West, with many in Japan arguing that opposition to whaling indicates a lack of respect for the country's traditions.
Last year, Yoshimasa Hayashi, the fisheries minister, declared that criticism of whaling was a "cultural attack" and a form of "prejudice" against Japan and compared whaling with Australia's consumption of kangaroo meat.
In Shimonoseki, a small city in southern Japan that is the home to modern Japanese whaling fleets, there was dismay over the ruling.
"Many in Shimonoseki are worried about this situation and the future for whaling," said Dr Kohmei Wani, a retired food science professor and whaling expert.
"Eating whales is a Japanese custom. For 2,000 years, we've maintained such a custom. But of course, it needs to adapt to modern times and be sustainable." Norway and Iceland have continued their own commercial whale hunting programmes in defiance of the 1986 moratorium.
Officials have signalled that Japan will grudgingly accept the verdict of the UN court, set up after World War II to rule in disputes between countries, but may seek to find ways around the ban.
The American Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which regularly harasses and clashes with Japan's whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, feels Japan might not toe the line.
"I'm not 100pc convinced they will abide by the ruling," said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.
Claire Bass, the head of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, said: "Neither commercial nor scientific whaling have any place in the 21st Century. "All eyes are now on Japan to respect this decision." (©Daily Telegraph, London)