This is very good news:
The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that the Japanese government must halt its whaling programme in the Antarctic.
It agreed with Australia, which brought the case in May 2010, that the programme was not for scientific research as claimed by Tokyo.
Japan said it would abide by the decision but added it "regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision".
Australia argued that the programme was commercial whaling in disguise.
As of course it was.
The court's decision is considered legally binding.
Japan had argued that the suit brought by Australia was an attempt to impose its cultural norms on Japan.
Something of a problem for the Guardian, then. Good news about the whales; bad news about the imposing of cultural norms.
Philip Hoare at CiF wrestles with the contradictions:
[T]here's an historical and far more ambivalent context to note here, one that echoes the tensions between east and west. Japan's claim to commercial whaling as a cultural expression is surely a shaky one, since it only began large-scale whaling in the 20th century – but it was taught to them by European whalers. Then came the second world war and the horrors of the nuclear bomb. Having reduced the Japanese nation to submission, the occupying Allied powers turned decommissioned Japanese vessels into whaling ships, and – with western observers aboard – were sent out to kill whales and use their meat to feed a starving nation.
Now we turn around and tell them it's all wrong. The Japanese fear that their fishing industry is next (quite rightly: fishing blue-fin tuna is close to sending the species extinct). And they point out that the US, fierce upholder of the 1983 moratorium, undermines its moral position by allowing indigenous Inuit to hunt bowhead whales in the Arctic....
Meanwhile, here in the west, unchallenged by international courts, Norway, Iceland and Greenland continue whaling. In the Faroes, in "European" waters, thousands of pilot whales die each year, driven from the open Atlantic on to the islands' beaches and butchered. What will today's decision mean for these whale hunts being carried out on our own doorstep? Many more whales and dolphins die each year through pollution, bycatch, ship-strike: who is going to legislate for them?
Who indeed? So perhaps, rather than celebrate this victory, we should have done nothing at all, because there's still some whaling going on, and there are other reasons why whales die, and if we can't make everything perfect in one stroke let's not even bother to do anything, in case we're accused of hypocrisy. Or - god forbid - of taking the moral high ground.
Anyway, is it true that Japan was taught to hunt whales by the West - especially after the war? What does Wikipedia have to say?
Whaling in Japan, in the sense of non-industrial whale hunting, began in the 12th century, but Japanese whaling in the modern sense began in the 1890s when Japan began to participate in the modern whaling industry, at that time an industry in which many people from many countries participated. Like other countries that participated in whaling in the past, modern Japanese whaling activities have usually extended outside Japanese territorial waters.
During the 20th century, Japan was heavily involved in commercial whaling until the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986. [...]
Factory ships were not used by Japan until the 1930s. As whale catches diminished in coastal waters, Japan looked to Antarctica. Toyo Hogei K.K. purchased the Norwegian factory ship, Antarctic, renaming it the Tonan Maru in 1934. Refrigerator ships were sent along to freeze and transport the meat back to Japan. By capitalizing on both the meat and oil of whales, the Japanese industry continued to out-compete other whaling nations. Improvements in technology such as the world's first diesel-powered whale catcher, the Seki Maru, also increased the capacity to take whales. In the years building up to World War II, the Germans purchased whale oil from Japan and both nations used it in preparation for war.
In 1937 London, the International Conference on Whaling, which Japan did not attend, led to additional limits on pelagic whaling in order to prevent excessive exploitation (and specifically the extinction of the blue whale) creating the International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling...
Regardless of efforts to establish limits, in part due to Japan ignoring an 89 day season limit and continuing for 125 days, a record 45,010 whales were taken in a single season. The Protocol to the International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in 1938, established additional restrictions on whaling. Despite the attendance of Japanese representatives, Japan did not sign the agreement and started hunting for humpback and undersized whales five weeks prior to the defined start of the season. By 1939 Germany and Japan accounted for 30% of the world's whale take.
Still, Hoare ends on a suitably profound note:
At the recent Encountering the Anthropocene conference convened by the University of Sydney, an Indigenous elder described to me some of the allusive stories of his people's empathetic relationships with whales. Once on land, humpbacks took human form and did good, and evil. These animals were not impossible symbols of righteousness, but sinners, like ourselves. There was no Manichean divide, but a subtler sense of our relationship to other sentient animals, the narrative we share. Perhaps that's the message we need to take away from today's result: none of us can occupy the unsteady moral high ground without looking down into the depths.
So the author of Leviathan, and a man who claims to have a life-long obsession with whales, can't bring himself to celebrate this latest news because it might lead to an assumption that we in the West occupy some kind of moral high ground. And that would never do.