A judge in Sydney has ruled that Japanese whalers in Antarctica are breaking Australian law, and has ordered them to stop their activities. The Federal Court decision applies to an Australian wildlife sanctuary that Japan does not recognize, and is unlikely to affect Japan's annual whale kill. The ruling does raise the volume, however, in the dispute over what the Japanese call science, and the Australians call a slaughter. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Federal Court Justice James Allsop ruled that the Japanese fleet has contravened numerous sections of Australia's Environment Protection Act by killing and injuring minke and fin whales.
He ordered the company that carries out Japan's annual whale hunts, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., to stop its activities in a large part of its regular hunting grounds off Antarctica.
The ruling applies to an Australian whale sanctuary that was established in 2000 around the Australian continent, and off the country's Antarctic territory. Japan, like most nations, does not recognize the sanctuary, however, and the ruling is not likely to force the whalers home.
Justice Allsop himself noted that the injunction is not enforceable unless the Japanese whaling fleet enters Australian jurisdiction, where the ships could be seized.
Nevertheless, Rebecca Keeble of the Humane Society International, which brought the court action, says the judge's ruling has set a precedent.
"It was a huge test case of Australia's environment legislation," she said. "It was a test of the validity of the whale sanctuary itself and it's the first time a Japanese whaling company has been taken to court for whaling activities and those activities have been found to be illegal."
The ruling does add to the war of words between the two countries. Japan insists that its whaling program in the Southern Ocean is for scientific research. The Japanese fleet plans to catch 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales over the current Antarctic summer.
Critics say the Japanese activity is commercial whaling in all but name. The Australian government has been among the most vocal critics of the whale hunt, rejecting the claim that it is for scientific purposes, and calling it a slaughter instead.