Environmental campaigners are launching a last-ditch legal attempt to preventJapanfrom slaughtering whales in the Antarctic this winter, after Tokyo indicated it would ignore a ban on its “scientific” expeditions.
The Australian branch ofHumane Society International(HSI) will on Wednesday ask the federal court in Sydney to find Kyodo Senpaku, the Japanese company that organises the hunts, in contempt of a 2008 ruling that banned the whaling fleet from hunting in an area of the Southern Ocean that Australia recognises as a whale sanctuary.
Japan, however, does not recognise the sanctuary and has continued to hunt in the area over the past several years, although it has not killed a single whale there since theinternational court of justice (ICJ) rejected Japanese claimsin March last year that “lethal sampling” was necessary to conduct scientific research into whale populations.
Although the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986, Japan had permission to kill a certain number of whales every year for what it called scientific research, with themeat sold legally on the open market.
After initially agreeing to comply with last year’s landmark ICJ judgment in the Hague, Japan appears poised to defy the court and resume the hunts early next year.
HSI is launching its challenge to Kyodo Senpaku seven years after the federal court found Japan in breach of theEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and instructed it to halt whaling in the area.
The group says Japan has killed “tens, if not hundreds” of whales in the sanctuary since the injunction. “Whales are protected under Australian law, and we want to see that law upheld,” said Jess Harwood, HIS Australia’s biodiversity programme officer.
“If the ruling goes our way it will be an important statement – that Japan is in contempt of court by continuing to kill whales.”
In addition to a ban, the group will ask the court to impose a “substantial” fine on the whalers.
In a recent note submitted to the UN, Japan gave notice that it was ready to defy the ICJ, saying the court’s jurisdiction “does not apply to ... any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea”.
Japan has so far failed to convince the IWC that there is any scientific justification for the annual whale hunts. In April,IWC scientists rejected a revised research planunder which 333 minke whales would be killed each year between 2015 and 2027, about one third the haul Japan previously targeted.
The federal court in Sydney is expected to take several weeks to rule, possibly while Japanese whaling ships are en route to the Southern Ocean. The fleet usually leaves the south-western port of Shimonoseki in December and returns in April the following year.
Campaigners said a favourable federal court ruling would give Australia’s government a sound legal basis to apply diplomatic pressure on Japan to end its whaling programme.
They have been encouraged by the recentappointment of the experienced diplomat, Peter Woolcott, as Australia’s new commissioner to the IWC, as well as by the recentchange of prime minister.
“We will be asking the Australian government to raise this with Japan and ask that the sanctuary be observed by the whaling fleet,” Harwood said. “Australia has taken the lead in campaigning against whaling in the past. It was behind the ICJ ruling, and so now we will wait and see if the [Malcolm] Turnbull government returns to those days. Australia has a love for whales and that needs to be translated into action.”
Campaigners in Japan have joined the growing chorus of protest, demanding the country retract its recent rejection of the ICJ ruling.