This Is Why Japan's So Called Scientific Whaling Was Found To Be Unlawful

A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March this year ruled that Japan’s scientific Antarctic whaling program was not scientific and therefore illegal.

In an article in the international journal Science, a group of scientists note that it was because Japan did not catch enough whales and meet their own sample size requirements that the program was found to be unscientific.

The case was brought against Japan by Australia and backed by New Zealand.

Australia argued that “scientific research” is subject to internationally accepted norms and is not unique at the level of the nation-state.

But the case was decided on logic, not science.

Dr Bill de la Mare at the Australian Antarctic Division and colleagues say the case may help to set precedent for how organisations assess the validity of scientific proposals in the future.

Japan says it is working on a new whaling proposal for 2015. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is meeting later this month and clues to the new Japan proposal may emerge.

The court acknowledged that the lethal catch of whales by the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA II) could, in principle, be characterised as scientific research.

However, the court also took a close look at the program’s design and implementation, deciding that they were not in line with the program’s stated objectives.

“The ICJ’s approach represents a model for separating scientific matters and the nonscientific agenda in other complicated disputes involving science, society, and law,” the scientists write in the journal.

“The ICJ demonstrated that it is possible to sit above the detailed technicalities of scientific research and still determine whether practices were for purposes of science or non-science.”

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