Editorial: Right decision to end Pacific whaling

It's a decision that appeared to take everyone by surprise - the comprehensive rejection of Japan's spurious argument over whaling.

Judges at the International Court of Justice, the highest UN court, rejected Japan's long-held argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily for human consumption.

Tokyo said it was disappointed but would abide by the decision, while activists said they hoped it would bring closer a complete end to whaling.

Many didn't see the decision coming, including Prime Minister John Key who said on Monday afternoon not to expect a "slam dunk" from the UN court.

It was an emphatic decision and it will be interesting to see how the Japanese react in the long term. There is plenty of room left for them to find other ways to start up a new programme.

The judgment justifies Australia's decision to take the case to the UN. Although not playing a major role, New Zealand has been vociferous in its opposition to whaling in the Pacific.

Japan can have no real issue with the decision as it was a stretch to say they were whaling for scientific purposes. They don't need to kill whales to track their numbers, measure the abundance of krill or the effects of contaminants on whales or their habitats.

Very little scientific knowledge has been produced - two peer-reviewed papers since 2005. Those studies were based on the grand total of nine whales. Over the same period, Japan has killed 3600 minke whales.

The country also doesn't need to kill whales to feed their people as whale meat is not as popular among the younger generation.

Japan can argue the anti-whalers' case is not only about conservation, the basis of the original convention. Instead it's about ethical and aesthetic objections to the killing of these magnificent animals.

They would also no doubt argue that a better outcome would be for the anti-whaling states to agree to lift the moratorium and let them concentrate on sustainable stocks of whales. But that argument is non-negotiable for anti-whaling countries such as New Zealand.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully is right to warn anti-whaling bodies and governments against making too much noise about the UN court's decision as it will no doubt have hurt Japanese pride. McCully said "ramming the decision in their faces" could spark a change of heart.

But Sea Shepherd is crediting itself with the win, and vowing to fight against other whaling programmes still taking place.

Pete Bethune, who spent five months in jail in Tokyo after he boarded a Japanese whaling vessel, said he felt vindicated.

Ultimately, the pressure needs to be maintained by governments and other bodies around the world to halt all whaling.