Japan's whaling program not for scientific purposes, rules International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Japan's whaling program in the Antarctic is not for scientific purposes and has forbidden the granting of further whaling permits.
The finding by a 16-judge panel at the ICJ is in favour of Australia's argument that Japan's whaling program is carried out for commercial purposes.
Japan has used the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which permits killing for research, to justify killing whales in the Antarctic.
But the court's judges agreed with Australia that the Japanese research - two peer-reviewed papers since 2005, based on results obtained from just nine killed whales - was not proportionate to the number of animals killed.
"In light of the fact the Jarpa II [research program] has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited," said presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia.
"Japan shall revoke any existent authorisation, permit or licence granted in relation to Jarpa II and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance to the program."
Japan signed a 1986 moratorium on whaling, but has continued to hunt up to 850 minke whales in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean each year.
The ICJ's ruling is final and there will be no appeal.
While Japan has committed to abide by the court's ruling it is free to continue whaling if it withdraws from the 1986 moratorium or the 1946 treaty.
Japan had argued it has complied with the moratorium despite its 2,000-year tradition of whale hunting, leaving coastal communities in "anguish" because they can no longer practise their ancestral traditions.
ICJ ruling 'vindication' of Australia's legal action: Peter Garrett
Former environment minister Peter Garrett, who launched the legal action in May 2010, said he is overjoyed by the finding.
"This is a comprehensive and resounding decision in Australia's favour," he told the ABC.
"It means we won't see harpoons in the Southern Ocean - we certainly shouldn't see them down there any longer.
"I'm absolutely over the moon for all those people who wanted to see the charade of scientific whaling cease once and for all.
"To have this ruling from the international court, which is absolutely clear and totally comprehensive, vindicates the decision that we took in taking Japan to the court."
Another former environment minister, Ian Campbell, said he hopes Japan will respect the court's decision.
"I think this is a time for the Japanese to reflect and to understand the importance of this decision - to respect the decision and then to make the right decision themselves," he said.
Greens founder Bob Brown declared on Twitter that the ICJ's ruling was a "whale of a win".
George Brandis welcomes ruling; says free-trade deal won't be effected
Attorney-General George Brandis welcomed the decision, noting that "both Australia and Japan have stated on a number of occasions that both countries will accept and respect the decision of the court".
Senator Brandis said he does not think the decision will have an effect on free-trade talks between Australia and Japan.
He said the way both countries have conducted themselves throughout the case proves that their relationship is strong.
"The fact that Australia and Japan were able to be in dispute on this narrow issue in the International Court of Justice, but nevertheless maintain an excellent relationship notwithstanding that difference, I think demonstrates very clearly what a strong relationship this is," he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is heading to Japan later this month, where he hopes to finalise the trade agreement.
Greens Senator Peter Wish-Wilson wants the Prime Minister to raise the issue when he is in Japan.
"We need to use whatever diplomatic means we can to ensure that the Japanese do abide by this decision," he said.
The Federal Opposition says the Government should now talk with Japan about genuine and non-lethal options for whale research.
Japan, Iceland and Norway the only remaining whaling countries
Whaling was once widespread around the world, but Japan is now one of only three countries, alongside Iceland and Norway, that continue the practice.
The meat is popular with Japanese consumers, who consider it a delicacy.
Norway, the other main whaling nation, in 1993 shifted away from scientific whaling to "commercial" catches, where the meat is sold directly to consumers.
Norway set a quota of 1,286 minke whales in the north Atlantic in last year's summer hunt, saying stocks are plentiful in the region.
Fishermen rarely catch the full quota, partly because demand has sunk in recent years.
Iceland and Norway do not claim to be carrying out research, meaning the ICJ's ruling has no immediate consequences for them.
However, activists said the ruling reflected a gradually changing in opinion that would put an end to whaling.
More than 10,000 whales have been killed since 1988 as a result of Japan's programs.