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Australia and New Zealand have been fighting Japan in a court case, in an attempt to stop Japan killing thousands of whales in Antarctica. Japan said their whaling was for research purposes, but Australians and New Zealanders were not convinced.

There were celebrations in The Hague, at The International Court of Justice, as the court found in favor of Australia and New Zealand.

One man who was at the court for the original June 2013 case and was there again today, to hear the verdict, Earthrace Conservation founder Pete Bethune, said, “I am absolutely thrilled.  Today will go down in history as a great day for whales, for conservation and for justice.”

In the past week, Japanese supporters of the so-called research whaling said that if they lost the case, they would change their strategy and go for commercial whaling, which, they said, they are allowed to do by international law.

“The verdict makes Japan’s Research Whaling program, which has killed many thousands of whales in the name of science, illegal. It also halts any likely copycat programs from the likes of Russia and Korea, which had the decision favored Japan, had been expected to introduce research whaling programs of their own.” – Pete Bethune

Ady Gil Destroyed

Bethune has had run-ins with Japanese whalers before, out on the open sea, in Antarctica. In January 2010, his boat, the Ady Gil, was destroyed when a Japanese security vessel ran over it. Bethune then boarded the vessel that had nearly taken is life and the lives of his crew. He then spent five months in a maximum-security prison in Japan, for illegally boarding the security boat.

The result in court was especially good news for Bethune, who said the Japanese case was weak, because it used “a loophole in the original IWC regulations that allowed for nations to conduct their own research-whaling program”

Bethune said the Japanese research was not research at all, nothing that any real scientific community would value. “Japan argued the court had no jurisdiction to decide what legitimate research was, and that Japan could choose its research programs as it liked.  They also presented some of their research findings, although none but the most one-eyed would accept them as being valued by the Scientific-community”

anti- whaling Ady Gil 2 JJ Harrison. Publicity photo.

Ady Gil 2 JJ Harrison. Publicity photo.

Whaling Legal Cases

The reason the Australian government announced it was taking Japan to the International Court of Justice was that, after Bethune and his crew were attacked, thrown into the sea and then thrown into a Japanese jail, a great campaign resulted in an intense public outcry over research whaling. The government was pushed into taking action. Bethune was still in the Japanese prison when he heard the news that Australia was taking the case to court. He recalls, “I went down to meet my lawyer, and the first thing she said to me was Australia had taken the court action against Japan over whaling.  I burst into tears.  I was optimistic that any decent judicial system would find against Japan, and to finally see it become a reality is amazing.”

The verdict of the International Court is binding for all three countries and cannot be appealed. It is thought that Japan has little choice now but to end their whaling program in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, even though some Japanese supporters have said they would continue without trying to disguise it as research.

Bethune said he spoke to a number of senior Japanese delegates after the verdict was announced. They indicated that while they were very disappointed with the outcome, they would abide by the ruling and not go back to Antarctica.

Another court case may be needed,  though, because the case only addressed Japan’s Antarctic whaling program.  Bethune is worried that Japan may try to continue their research whaling program in the Northern Pacific.

Speaking about the limits of the current court case, Bethune said, “I have no idea why Australia and New Zealand left the Northern Pacific out of their case.  If the research program in Antarctica is illegal, then by definition so is the program in the Northern Pacific, but it will require another court action to make this illegal also.”

Although he lost his boat in 2010, Bethune says he feels his actions at the time in some way contributed to today’s verdict.

“I lost my boat, spent five months in prison for peacefully protesting against what has now been confirmed as illegal activities, and was paraded around in Japan as a dangerous criminal which was difficult to take at the time.  If all that was even a small part of the means to this happy ending, then I’m bloody happy to have gone through it all.” – Pete Bethune

Earthrace Conservation is a non-profit organisation, funded solely through donations, dedicated to tackling the serious issues that threaten oceans and marine life around the world.