28 November 2021

UN International Court of Justice Ruling…will it make a difference?

Yesterday the UN International Court of Justice ruled on a court case brought by Australia against Japan in 2010, citing that Japan’s so called “scientific whaling” was commercial whaling by another name.

The ruling has found in favour of Australia and considers that Japan’s insistence that their self imposed quotas of over 1000 whales to include the still endangered and threatened fin and humpback whales, was not justified under the caveat of “scientific whaling”. A loophole granted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at the time the world wide moratorium on commercial whaling was set up in the mid 1980’s.

This is an extract from a recent BBC news post…

“…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.

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…”

Is this a time for rejoicing or quiet reflection?

For marine conservationists and whale admirers the world over this has to be fantastic news. It is a true delight to see the UN International Court of Justice stand up for what so many consider to be a morally and scientifically sound environmental decision, rather than take a politically expedient view. Quite rightly you can jump for joy…

But beware of complacency. Japan still kills many hundreds of whales in their North Pacific “fishery” and the appalling abuses and cruelty of the dolphin and porpoise drive hunts of Taiji and elsewhere along the Japanese coast, show no signs of abating. Mark my words Japan is still very much committed to killing both small and large cetaceans in their thousands and may well increase self allocated quotas elsewhere to make up for any shortfall as a result of losing the Antarctic kill quotas.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

A number of questions still remain unanswered…

> Will the current fiercely anti-environment Australian government relax pressure on Japan in some way as a sop to this ruling?


> Will Japan honor their commitment to abide by the ruling? Many believe that their commercial whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary were simply for political reasons to ensure their freedom on the high seas and to distract world attention to the damage their fishing fleets are doing in the Pacific.

> Will this harden the attitudes of the Japanese Government when it comes to dolphin drive hunts and other whaling activities?

> Will this increase the market in Japan for Icelandic whale meat? There is, as we speak, a ship, The Alma, heading down the West Coast of Africa that departed Iceland some days ago, laden with 2000 tonnes of frozen whale meat…widely presumed to be bound for the Japanese market.

> With declining taste for whale meat in Japan will those with vested interests now develop the luxury doggy treat market using whale meat? It is claimed that there are warehouses in Japan full to overflowing with frozen whale meat that was originally bound for the table. With declining demand will this now end up being fed to dogs?

These are just some of the questions. There are many more…but the 94 million dollar question is…will this ruling make a difference?

You are damn right it will make a difference! It sets a precedent and gives the thousands of conservationists around the globe hope that “the establishment” will one day step up to the mark and take marine environmental protection seriously.

However, there is a caveat! In the world of politics and marine environmental protection all is not as it may seem…this may end up being an elaborate exercise in smoke and mirrors…

During the last two years there has been a huge increase in the “normalisation” of eating whale meat. Tourists now flock to Iceland and Greenland to watch these enigmatic denizens of the deep only to return to eat whale meat washed down with fine claret in the many restaurants that now specialize in eating cetaceans.

whale menu

Shipments of whale meat have crossed Canada and EU nations en route to Japan…a nation whose residents it is said don’t want to eat it!

So did the UN International Court of Justice have a choice in the matter? I suspect not. They could not in all realism come to any other decision as Japan’s abuse of the commercial whaling moratorium in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary were palpable. A huge floating factory ship supported by three killer boats, freezing down the whale meat to be sold on the open market back in Japan. This for the scientific study of whales?

No, the honourable judges who came to this conclusion had no other route but to find in favour of Australia…and Japan have known that all along and been preparing for this eventuality I feel sure. But to take four years to make that ruling while pulling down hefty salaries beggars belief!

We must see the ruling for what it is. Simply that…the Japanese overt commercial whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary were not justified under the caveat of “scientific whaling”. Japan have been requested to stop that operation and Japan have said they will comply with that request.

This is not an end to commercial whaling. Norway, Greenland and Iceland still send their boats out to catch whales for commercial exploitation. The Faroe Island still slaughters huge numbers of long finned pilot whales and Atlantic white sided dolphins in the name of cultural tradition…and Denmark supports them! The Solomon Islands have dolphin drive hunts that kill hundreds of animals annually.

However, hope springs eternal and to paraphrase Winston Churchill:

“…This is not the end. This is not the  beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning…”

Written by Nic Slocum /April 2014





Humpback Whales off Wexford Coast…

During the closing stages of last week we received reports of Humpback Whale sightings off the Wexford coast…

…since that time confirmed sightings have been made by observers of a number of Humpback Whales off the County Wexford coast indulging in what is a fairly common behavioural activity for this species – launching themselves high out of the water in spectacular breaches, returning to the water with an enormous splash.

Both in 2009 and in 2004 when we had significant numbers of Humpbacks off the southwest coast, we encountered breaching animals. The charismatic Humpback Whales is one of only two species of baleen whales in Irish waters which may be encountered regularly breaching, the other being the much smaller Minke Whale.

One of the many questions we have fielded during the last two days has been “where have these animals come from and where are they going”. Whilst the migratory patterns of Humpback Whales in the eastern Atlantic remain the subject of much conjecture some information is well documented…

The migratory patterns of large baleen whales in the northern hemisphere cover lesser distances than those same species in the southern hemisphere. However, the Humpback Whale may be the one exception to that rule. Well studied, large Humpback Whale populations off the eastern seaboard of the United States, demonstrate migrations that see individuals travelling from Greenland to the Dominican Republic every year to calve and mate, returning to northern climes to feed in the nutrient rich waters off Greenland and the Denmark Straight.

Humpback populations in the eastern Atlantic are much smaller and are believed to travel between Icelandic and Norwegian waters and Greenland and traditional breeding grounds around The Cape Verde Islands, off the west African coast. The number of animals observed at any one time around the Cape Verde Islands however, number far less than the estimated total population of Humpbacks in north eastern Atlantic waters leading some observers to believe that some members of this population travelled across the Atlantic diagonally to the waters around the Dominican Republic. This is supported by the finding that an individual first identified in the Denmark Straight was identified nearly 18 years later in the waters of the Cape Verde Islands suggesting some “diagonal” west – east migration does occur. It is reasonable to assume that east – west “diagonal” movement occurs as well.

Given that concentrated Humpback activity is not a year round phenomenon off any part of the Irish coastline it is reasonable to assume that these individuals off Wexford are part of a general north – south migratory movement of Humpback Whales that occurs during the winter months opportunistically feeding on seasonal Herring spawning aggregations that occur of the southeast corner of Ireland during the winter months.

To be sure we would need clear photo identification showing animals off Wexford were the same individuals seen in both north east Atlantic waters and around the Cape Verde Islands. So far that type of conclusive evidence is not available.


Live Dolphin Stranding at Reen…

Shortly after 9.45 this morning Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork received a call from Ann Shaw to report what she thought was a young dolphin swimming in circles over the mud flats to the north of the spit in Castlehaven harbour known as The League. Responding immediately we arrived to find what appeared to be a adolescent bottlenose dolphin, although still afloat, clearly in danger of live stranding…which it did quickly.

Withing 25 minutes we were able to walk out in knee deep mud and get our lifting sling underneath the stricken animal. With the help of young dolphin watchers Joshua, Toby and Charlotte Slocum, Chris Watkins, Wendy and myself were able to lift what was a 5.5ft long young bottlenose dolphin across The League and refloat this young animal in deeper water on the seaward side of the spit.

Last seen heading towards the open sea we are hopeful this young animal will not restrand. We stayed monitoring the situation for over an hour in which time we did not resight this dolphin. After careful evaluation we determined that this animal, apart for a few minor abrasions associated with stranding, appeared in reasonable health and showed no signs of malnutrition.

We will continue to monitor the area for the next two days in case it restrands.

Many thanks to Ann and Chris for all their help.


A Resumption of Commercial Whaling?

I have heard it all now…

The International Whaling Commission meet next week to discuss a potential deal whereby Japan, Norway and Iceland will be rewarded for consistently breaking international agreements and conducting commercial whaling for profit when a moratorium on commercial whaling is in place.

The deal is that Japan will be allowed commercial whaling rights in their coastal waters in return for, wait for it, a voluntary reduction in the number of minke and fin whales killed in the southern ocean whale sanctuary each year during their Antarctic whaling campaign…yes, a “voluntary” reduction.

The EU, predominantly anti whaling, is said to be considering a view which may permit this to be passed. If this cosy little deal is sanctioned then the “bully boy” tactics will have succeeded and the minority view will have it’s way over the interests of around 70% of the EU population.

Any form of sell out by the EU communities at this stage would be disastrous for whales but also for the whole marine conservation movement going forward.

If you would like to read more and have your say with the EU then click on the title link.


Another Mass Stranding off Tasmania…

Another mass stranding of pilot whales and some dolphin species has occured on an island between Tasmania and the Australian mainland – an area notorious for mass whale stranding. Nearly 200 animals came ashore late Sunday night and around 140 of these have already died. There is some hope that some members of the group may be refloated and survive… so says a representative of the Tasmanian Wildlife Service.

This stranding event has taken the number of animals that have mass stranded in this part of the world to nearly 400 – just this year. This includes a group of over 40 sperm whales earlier this year all of which died.

The exact cause of these events is poorly understood but some have suggested that this particular area disrupts the animals ability to navigate effectively.

For more details click on the title.


Fishermen Trying to Save Dolphins…

Fishermen are working hard off the coast of the Phillipines north of Manilla to save hundreds of dolphins that are accumulating in shallow water. Three animals that have already perished have been identified as Melon Headed whales a species well associated with stranding. Local marine biologists think they may have become disorientated by a recent earthquake.

This is another episode in a long line of recent cetacean strandings in different parts of the world. A couple of weeks ago a large group of around 45 Sperm Whales beached south of Tasmania.

The reasons for these catastrophic strandings are still unclear to the scientific community but probably result from several factors conspiring together.