A major win for Cetacean Welfare

1st Apr 2014

The IWDG welcomes yesterday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice ordering a temporary halt to the annual Japanese ‘scientific whaling’ programme in the Southern Ocean.  By 12 votes to four the court found that Japan’s scientific whaling programme, JARPA II, did not constitute scientific research as defined under International Whaling Commission rules.  It therefore ordered that Japan revoke any scientific permit under JARPA II and refrain from granting any further permits for the killing of whales.  The ruling noted among other factors that Japan had not considered a smaller research program or the use of non-lethal methods to study whale populations.  In defence of its scientific programme, Japan cited only two peer-reviewed scientific papers relating to its program from 2005 to the present - a period during which it reportedly killed 3,600 whales.

The judgement which follows a case brought by Australia against Japan has received overwhelming international approval.  It has long been argued that there is no humane way of killing a whale in the wild, with methods used subjecting animals to extreme panic, distress, pain and suffering over a prolonged period, significantly diminishing their welfare.  However, while the ICJ ruling is a major step forward for cetacean welfare, it must be met with a note of caution.  Monday’s ruling does not bring whaling in the world’s oceans to an end.  Japan has a second, smaller active whaling program in the northern Pacific.  While Norway and Iceland reject the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission and continue for-profit whaling.  It is hoped, however, that today’s judgement will increase pressure on remaining whaling programmes and perhaps lead to the eventual termination of all whaling activity worldwide.  The impact of such a decision on whale populations using Irish waters could be much greater than previously known, with two ‘Irish’ humpback whales positively matched to Norway and to Iceland for the first time in 2014.

The IWDG do not have an official policy on commercial whaling as our remit extends to Irish waters only.  However, we have developed a welfare programme which will deal with welfare issues impacting cetaceans within Irish coastal waters.  We have prepared a cetacean welfare policy document which will shortly be published addressing welfare issues such as live-stranding, eco-tourism, entanglement and by-catch, ship strike and scientific research.  These issues are growing in significance worldwide as impacts on cetacean welfare.  Therefore, while we celebrate a victory for cetacean welfare today, we must be conscious of new welfare threats developing as a result of a change in the way we are using the world’s ocean.


Paul Kiernan

Welfare Officer

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