Big Blow To Whaling: Court Halts Japan's Antarctic Hunts

Japanese whaling has been deemed unscientific and was ordered to halt by the UN's International Court of Justice on Monday, marking a significant victory for animal rights campaigners. The court ruled that Japan failed to justify the large number of minke whales it hunts in the Antarctic.

"The evidence does not establish that the program is achieving its stated objectives," said presiding judge in the Hague Peter Tomka, reading a 12-4 decision. "The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales ... are not for purposes of scientific research."

The case is the culmination of a four-year battle waged by the Australian government, which argued that Japan used scientific research as a front for commercial whaling. Tomka ordered Japan to stop whaling "with immediate effect."

The ruling has been heralded by conservationists.

"This is an historic decision which lays to rest, once and for all, the grim travesty of Japan's so-called 'scientific' whaling and exposes it to the world as the blatant falsehood it clearly is," Clare Perry, head of the cetaceans campaign at the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency, told the Guardian. "With this ruling, Japan must clearly cease its whaling activities in the Antarctic."

Japan has been slaughtering 850 minke whales and up to 50 endangered fin whales every year, claiming it was for a research project to determine whether sustainable commercial whaling is possible. But the science wasn't strong enough, the court said Monday. According to the Guardian:

Tomka, however, said Japan had not offered sufficient scientific justification for the slaughter of a large number of minke whales, while failing to kill enough fin and humpback whales to be of any scientific value. It had also failed to explore the possibility of gathering certain scientific data without resorting to killing the mammals, he added.

Despite a 1986 global moratorium on the practice, whaling still exists in other parts of the world -- Japan also hunts whales in the northern Pacific, along with Norway and Iceland in the Arctic.