Fight against whaling 'not over yet'
Activists are claiming victory after the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its Antarctic whaling programme, but warn the fight may not be over.
Judges at the highest United Nations court have ordered Japan to halt their annual hunt in the Antarctic, rejecting the country's long-held argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not primarily for human consumption.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former chairman of the International Whaling Commission, said the ruling was a setback for Japan, and a considerable victory for nations opposed to whaling.
The court concluded, in a judgment released overnight, that Japan's JARPA II programme was not "for purposes of scientific research" as allowed under Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Palmer said the ruling was the strongest seen so far.
But the court could not rewrite the treaty, and Japan was technically able to continue whaling if it created a new programme that met the court's tests.
"What we will now get is a series of negotiations about what will happen," Palmer said.
"Whether they will seek to redesign their programme and continue it is unknown at the moment.
"They have the legal right to do that, however, and that therefore remains a risk."
Sea Shepherd, whose crews travel to the Southern Ocean each year to clash with Japanese whaling vessels, described the ruling as a "win for the whales".
"We're all a bit shocked, really," New Zealand spokesman Michael Lawry said.
"The history of the ICJ is to take the middle ground, but they've come out very strongly against the Japanese government's scientific whaling."
There were now two options available to the Japanese, he said.
They could leave the International Whaling Commission and become an outlaw whaling nation, like Iceland and Norway, or they could start another research programme, which was the likely option, Lawry said.
"Japan have always said they do want a return to commercial whaling, so we're going to have to watch out for that one," he said.
"We'll just have to monitor and plan for the worst-case scenario."
Pete Bethune, who spent five months in jail in Tokyo after he boarded a Japanese whaling vessel in protest, said he felt vindicated by the ruling.
He had slept outside the court in The Hague overnight to make sure he was in court to see it handed down, and was confident Japan would abide by it.
"I do believe it is the finish of whaling in Antarctica," he said.
"I saw a bit of history made today and it was an amazing feeling to be there."
The case had not put a stop to Japanese whaling in the Northern Pacific, but Bethune was optimistic the Antarctic ban was a significant first step.
Speaking from The Hague, Nori Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation, said Japan was "deeply disappointed and surprised" by the decision, but would comply with the judgment at this stage.
"It will take some time for us to study very carefully what is stated in the judgement," he said.
"We will consider a concrete future course of action."
Japan did not plan to leave the International Whaling Commission, and diplomatic relations with New Zealand and Australia would not be affected, Shikata said.
"It is very important not to damage our bilateral relations just because of this difference of views on whaling issues."