LONDON - The International Whaling Commission has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015.
Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986. Since then, Japan has still hunted whales under what it calls a "scientific whaling program." Conservation groups say this program is nothing more than a poor disguise for commercial whaling.
In a surprise move in March, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled Japan must halt its whaling program in the Southern Ocean.
Delegates at the International Whaling Commission or IWC summit in Slovenia voted by a 35 to 20 majority Thursday, to adopt a resolution backing the International Court of Justice ruling.
Patrick Ramage from conservationist group the International Fund for Animal Welfare says it is a major blow to Japan’s hopes of resuming whaling next year.
“It is almost as though Japan's commissioner is saying: ‘Pay no attention to the world court judgment behind the curtain - we are going back to whaling in a sanctuary around Antarctica.’ Ultimately, Japan needs to reconcile itself to the emerging global consensus for whale conservation and the court order of the ICJ," said Ramage.
Because the resolution was not passed by consensus, it is not binding on all IWC members. After the vote, Japan’s commissioner to the IWC Joji Morishita said Tokyo would submit a new plan to resume so-called scientific whaling off Antarctica.
“We will be providing, we will be submitting a new research plan in [the] Antarctic ocean so that we will implement that research activities starting from 2015. And all these activities are, as we have been arguing, perfectly in line with international law, [based upon] scientific bases, as well as ICJ judgment language," said Morishita.
New Zealand, which sponsored the resolution, insisted the IWC must respect the vote and reject Japan’s attempts to resume the hunt. Its commissioner is Gerard Van Bohemen.
“There is no issue of discretion here, the Commission has made a clear recommendation and instruction to the scientific committee, and as a subsidiary body, of course, it must comply," said Van Bohemen.
A bid by Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic failed to get enough votes.
Activists have frequently clashed with Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean.
In Japan, few people actually eat whale meat, but supporters say whaling is part of ancient Japanese culture. In a restaurant in central Tokyo, chef Shunpei Meguro is carefully slicing a side of whale meat.
“It would be sad to lose such an ingredient,” he said, “especially considering it has been Japan's traditional food.”
A smaller whale hunt in the Pacific Ocean began earlier this month. Japan, Iceland and Norway are the only countries that hunt whales.