Earlier this month, news was released that Japan canceled their yearly whale hunt off the coast of Antarctica. Just days after an international court ruled against the killings (drawing world-wide attention), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would comply with the order.
However, the ministry in charge of the hunt – which was tasked with canceling it that Wednesday – seemed to have left Japan wiggle room for the future. The action leaves open the possibility that Japan will try to revive the program under different legal reasoning next year.
This hunt has taken advantage of a loophole in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allowed killings for research purposes. According to the ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague on Monday, scientific output from Japan’s whaling program in Antarctica “appears limited,” and suggests that the hunt was continued because of politics, rather than science.
The hunt may not be widely popular in Japan, but it is backed by a vocal group of nationalistic lawmakers who paint opponents as encroaching on Japanese culture.
Prime Minister Abe expressed his disappointment in the ruling during a meeting with members of the Japanese government’s legal delegation. The head of delegation, Koji Tsuruoka, told reporters that Mr. Abe “sternly reprimanded him” for losing the case.
Regardless, Mr. Abe echoed comments made earlier by other Japanese officials, confirming that Japan would abide by international legal rulings. Analysts have said Japan may have no choice but to obey the court, especially at this time when the nation is calling on China to adhere to international legal norms in a heated territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.
While this ruling does not cancel the small-scale slaughter of whales in the Northern Pacific, as it too is covered under a program Japan also claims is “research”, this mandate is at least a positive step in the right direction.