A Whale Of A Ruling

Yesterday, the International Court Of Justice ruled that Japan must halt its Antarctic whaling program:

The verdict came four years after Australia petitioned the UN court to rule that the expeditions in the icy waters of the Antarctic were not, as Japan has long claimed, for scientific research, since meat from the hunts is sold in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants. … The ruling has brought an abrupt end to the Antarctic hunt, but it doesn’t necessarily spell an end to Japan’s whaling program. Experts believe the verdict leaves Japan with a choice: to abandon whaling – a centuries-old tradition in some coastal communities – or devise a new, scaled-back program that culls fewer whales and has a more clear-cut scientific brief. A third, and least likely, option for Japan would be to risk yet more international opprobrium by joining Iceland and Norway in ignoring the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

“So is this the end of Japan’s whaling industry?” asks Derek Mead:

Japan has said it will accept the decision, but it’s important to note that the ruling is specific to Japan’s argument for issuing whaling permits for the Antarctic. Japan still has legal permits to whale in the North Pacific, and it’s possible that the country could try to rework JARPA II to fit more specific scientific goals.

Still, it’s a big blow, and in any case, the writing’s been on the wall for awhile. A key poll in 2012 found that the vast majority of Japanese citizens do not consume whale meat, and that young people were even less likely to be consumers. Combined with the finding that the industry is largely propped up by government subsidies, it seems evident that the whaling industry isn’t economically sustainable.

But Jake Adelstein and Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky note that Japan’s whale eaters won’t run out of meat any time soon:

The Mainichi Shimbun pointed out that Japan would need to rethink its plans to resume commercial whaling but thankfully the ban would have little effect on those with a yen for eating whale, pointing out that “research whale” only accounted for 20 per cent of the meat circulating in Japan. This is good news for the sea mammal gourmand. Whale specialty restaurants like Ganso Kujirya in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward are unlikely to be affected by the ban in the short term, and given the warehouse supplies Japan’s whale-eating culinary culture could survive even long after certain breeds of whale are extinct.

Lastly, Joshua Keating explores the weird membership of the International Whaling Commission:

As UCLA political scientist Christian Dippel noted in a recent study of the body, membership in the IWC is open to any country, and today most IWC members have no commercial interests in whaling whatsoever. IWC members include landlocked countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg on the anti-whaling side, and Malawi and Mongolia on the pro-whaling side.

Not surprisingly, many of these countries often seem less motivated by protecting whales or respecting Japan and Iceland’s cultural heritage then by selling their vote to the highest bidder. … Dippel’s research found a clear pattern of Japan increasing foreign aid to countries that supported its position on whaling. On the flip side, it turns out whaling doesn’t pay. Because of decreases in aid from Western countries, the net economic impact of becoming a pro-whaling is, on average, negative.