Are whales sacred? That’s what Japan wants to know this week in the International Court of Justice. Flickr/fugm10

Whaling in the Antarctic: Week 2 – Japan responds

Dispatches from The Hague: Tony Press, CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre at the University of Tasmania, is in The Hague for four weeks of hearings at the International Court of Justice. The case will decide whether Japan’s scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean can continue. Tony will report as each week’s hearings close.

It was a clash of values this week in the International Court of Justice, as Japan defended its scientific whaling program. Japan argued that Australia was imposing its cultural values on Japan, and had failed to show that Japan was in breach of international law.

“We wish to emphasise that the case concerns the legality of Japan’s activities under international law, not ethical values or the evaluation of good or bad science,” Japan’s deputy foreign minister, Mr Koji Tsuruoka said.

Playing politics with whales

Mr Tsuruoka went on to say, “Why does Australia take such a position? Are all whales endangered or sacred? I understand the emotional background to this position, but fail to understand how it can be translated into a legal or scientific position.”

Japan says Australia cannot use the Whaling Convention to impose its will unilaterally on other nations or to change the International Whaling Commission (IWC) into an organisation opposed to whaling or make it a “preservation committee”.

Professor Payam Akhavan from McGill University painted Australia’s opposition to Japan’s whaling program as pandering to public opinion. Referring back to an Australian statement last week, Akhavan said, “Australia seeks to cloak its political and cultural preferences in the lab-coat of science”.

He went on to quote a statement by Ian Campbell, a former Australian environment minister. Mr Campbell said in 2006: “many cultures and traditions don’t belong in a modern world”. Prof Akhavan said that the former environment minister subsequently went on to support the work of the activist group Sea Shepherd.

Japan argued the Whaling Convention is clear in its construction and purpose: it is for “the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”.

How to find out how old a whale is

Killing a whale is the best way to get certain types of information, Japan said.

Getting biopsies from non-lethal methods, Japan argues, is inefficient and killing is much easier. And, for example, ear plugs, used to estimate the age of whales, can only be collected by lethal whaling. Japan called Professor Lars Walløe, of University of Oslo and a former Norwegian Commissioner to the Whaling Commission, as its sole expert witness.

In rejecting last week’s evidence that Japan’s scientific research was not testing an hypothesis, Prof Walløe said that 19th Century geneticist Gregor Mendel had worked for a long time without an hypothesis, and that there were other examples in modern science.

Resuming commercial whaling

Japan’s goal is to resume commercial whaling, and its scientific whaling program was designed to advise the process, Japan said.

Australia has argued that Japan’s scientific whaling program was commercial whaling in disguise, but Japan said commercial whaling would be undertaken in a different manner and would be concentrated on areas heavily populated by whales. Japan said its current whaling program “commercially… makes no sense”.

Japan argued strongly that the permit to kill whales for scientific purposes was issued at Japan’s discretion alone. In contrast to the claims made by Australia that Japan had ignored the Whaling Commission, Japan said that it had provided the scientific committee of the Whaling Commission with its research plan and they reviewed the plan and made comment. Japan said it had considered these comments before issuing its permit to kill whales. This research, Japan said, was to provide “the best scientific advice” in order to achieve the most important goal of resuming “sustainable commercial whaling”.

Bad faith

Throughout the case, reference has been made to whether Japan is acting in “bad faith” by continuing lethal whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Japan hit back yesterday that these kinds of accusations of “bad faith” should be made against Australia, not Japan.

The case resumes next Monday with New Zealand appearing to present argument in favour of its intervention, followed on Tuesday and Wednesday with the second round of oral argument by Australia and observations on New Zealand’s intervention.

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