Thar she blows!: The International Court of Justice halts Japanese whaling

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Japan has slaughtered thousands of whales in the name of “science.” Selling whale meat in commercial markets, dropping carcasses and killing the massive mammoths of the ocean has been shocking to conservationists and whale lovers world-wide.

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The huge fin whale seen from above. (Source: CC)

Australia, a country committed to conservation of the ocean’s resources, brought a lawsuit against Japan in 2010, claiming that the federally-established whaling fleet was operating under the very thin guise of scientific research.

The International Court of Justice, established under the United Nations and the highest international court of law, ruled on March 31 that Japanese whaling was indeed irresponsible and illegal and ordered the immediate end to whaling practices. The justifications made by Japan in support of killing whales were not sufficient to support the country’s claims. Killing over 3,000 minke whales since 2005, the scientific benefits of the program were not apparent.

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The Nisshin Maru ship holding two whale carcasses. (Source: CC)

The infrastructure of Japan’s system was quite complex– The Nisshin Maru ship, pictured above, is the world’s only whale factory vessel and the primary boat used in the Japanese whaling fleet. Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) was charged with conducting research on whales and was in charge of the whaling fleet. The whales that were caught were then sold for commercial purposes, with whale meat, blubber and bone all frequently found in Japanese markets.

Japan stated that they were incredibly disappointed with the ruling, and argued that they felt Australia was imposing their cultural values onto them. Whales have long been a resource for consumption and utilization in Japan, and the ruling, to them, feels personal.

As bounds in science have clearly indicated that ocean resources are much more fragile than previously thought, cultural values start to seem worth shifting toward those more informed and based on science. The International Court of Justice clearly believed that the data output of ICR did not offset the damage that was being enacting in the ocean ecosystem. Even further, the global shift away from the killing of whales has been very noticeable. Japan is the only country left that employs such practices, and protests of their fleet have been ongoing since its official establishment. It is important for Japan to adhere to the ruling of the Court, to set an international example as both a country that is committed to conservation and a country that can shift cultural focus toward sustainable practices.

Jill Goatcher is a senior politics major and marine biology minor. She can be reached at goatcher@oxy.edu or on Twitter @WklyJGoatcher.