On May 31, 2010, Australia announced that it would file a lawsuit against Japan at the International Court of Justice as a result of Japan’s sustained whaling efforts in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, an area dedicated to the preservation of global whale populations. While Japan claims that its whaling practices are justified and exempted by the International Whaling Commission based on IWC’S Article VIII, which allows the killing of whales for scientific purposes, the Australian government, along with Surfers For Cetaceans, the activist group largely responsible for revealing atrocities surrounding the dolphin slaughter at the Killing Cove in Taiji, Japan, think otherwise.
“It’s mainly a loophole that they have worked to continue commercial whaling under another name,” says co-founder of Surfer for Cetaceans, Howie Cooke. “The so-called science that is coming out of it is technically not very useful to the whale research community. I think there has been one peer-reviewed paper (that resulted from Japan’s whaling practices). Everything except the aging of a whale can be done by non-lethal research – just by picking up skin samples and poo in the water, and things like that. What’s the point of killing an animal to say you want to study their population dynamic when the animal is already listed as vulnerable or endangered? It flies completely in the face of whale conservation.”
“Our collective effort to defend the whales’ right to live is crucial at this point in time,” says Surfers For Cetaceans ambassador, Dave Rastovich. “Whichever way you direct your compassionate activism, send it now to the whales. Be it through art, written word, direct intervention, public protest or lobbying now is the time to continue our pressure and stay on point with our efforts to stop the tragedy of whaling.”
Despite accusations from the Australian government and organizations like Surfers for Cetaceans, Japanese officials insist that the lawsuit is unfounded and their practices will continue.
The lawsuit comes alongside the International Whaling Commission’s annual convention, held this year in Morocco, which presents an opportune moment to re-evaluate whaling practices. Here, the IWC will review the practicality of the international moratorium on whale killing, a decree established in 1986, as well as the three exemptions that have been distributed based on Article VIII to Norway, Iceland, and Japan.
“There’s a sense in Australia that we’re gatekeepers – custodians of the region,” says Cooke, who leaves next week to act as an ambassador for Surfers For Cetaceans at the IWC Convention in Morocco. Though the litigation process has the potential to stretch over a long period of time before a ruling is declared, Cooke remains steadfast in delivering his message: “Surfers For Cetaceans is fully supporting the fact that Australia is taking Japan to court. We just want to remind people of what a privilege it is to be in the company of whales and dolphins and how we should protect them.”