Australia’s recent anti-Japanese whaling appeal to the International Court of Justice in The Hague has resulted in diplomatic tensions between the two countries, with representative lawyers trading verbal barbs.

Australia’s claim that Japan’s whale hunt in the Southern Ocean in the name of scientific study is illegal and dishonest met with a rebuke from Japan’s legal representation, labeling the Australian argument as “an affront to the dignity of the nation”. Japanese counsel Payam Akhavan also hinted that Japan might leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Whale meat for sale in Japan. Pic: akibubblet (Flickr CC)

From The Australian:

The session was the first of two days allowed for Japan to rebut Australia’s central claim – that Japan’s whaling program is commercial rather than scientific.

Australia has argued that it is not necessary to kill whales for research and the fact that the meat from the program is eaten is proof that it is commercial whaling in disguise.

Japan’s diplomatic response is that it cannot carry out the necessary research by non-lethal means. Its lawyers have furthermore accused Australia of imposing its own culture and culinary preferences on the rest of the world. Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus maintains that it’s all about what is legal in terms of the IWC treaty of which Japan is a signatory 

Is this an issue of Western neo-colonial attitudes and moral posturing or simply the law? Honestly, I think it has elements of both. Three Western European countries, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands (technically a self-governing territory of Denmark), continue to practice whaling, but they are not signatories of the IWC treaty and therefore only a moral, not a legal, argument is relevant. This also downplays an Eastern vs. Western dichotomy regarding the morality of whaling.

Whale hunt turns sea red at Hvalba beach, Faroe Islands. Pic: Inf-Lite Teacher (Flickr CC)

Read this ho-hum defense of Japanese whaling in the Japan News. It basically echoes Payam Akhavan’s defense in The Hague.

Yet it is clear that Australia is not simply interested in Japan following the letter of the law, but wants whaling banned outright. It is of course not buying the whole spiel that research whaling requires the killing of between 500 and 1,000 whales per year and that the selling of whale meat in shops and restaurants is just a convenient by-product.

This WWF statement sums up the argument against lethal whaling for scientific purposes:

Since the whaling treaty was signed there have been great scientific advances that allow data about whales to be obtained through non-lethal means. The International Court of Justice has heard abundant evidence on why hunting hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean is not necessary for science

In this day and age there is no reason to kill whales for scientific research and WWF strongly hopes for a positive ruling by the court that will end whaling in the Southern Ocean.

–Wendy Elliott, species programme manager WWF

The public hearings on the case in The Hague are now closed. We will have to wait perhaps several months for the judges to deliberate and deliver a verdict.