New Zealand has welcomed an International Court of Justice decision that Japan's whaling program does not serve scientific research purposes and must cease.
"The ICJ decision sinks a giant harpoon into the legality of Japan's whaling program, JARPA II," Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said following Monday's decision at The Hague.
"New Zealand has consistently opposed Japan's so-called 'scientific' whaling, which is a practice that is deeply offensive to many New Zealanders," he said in a statement.
"The court has found that there are limits on the way Japan can conduct so-called 'scientific' whaling and that Japan's JARPA II program does not meet reasonable criteria for scientific research.
Prime Minister John Key says he expects Japan to abide by the court's "decisive" ruling.
"I suppose technically [they could] withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, and say 'to hell with all of that' – but it's very unlikely Japan would do that," he said on Firstline this morning.
"They've been a participant for a long time, and it would be very churlish of Japan, and they are people who have always acknowledged the international rule of law."
In delivering the judgment, court president Peter Tomka said: "The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not for purposes of scientific research.
The court ruled Tokyo should cease its whaling program "with immediate effect".
The ICJ, by 12 votes to four, said Japan hadn't acted in compliance with its obligations under the international whaling convention.
Australia had asked the 16-judge panel to ban Japan's annual hunt on the basis it was not "for purposes of scientific research" as allowed under Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Canberra argued Tokyo was cloaking a commercial whaling operation "in the lab coat of science" despite agreeing to a 1980s ban on harpooning.
Japan, however, countered during a three-week hearing in mid-2013 that the ICJ didn't have the authority to decide what was, or wasn't, science.
It insisted lethal research was both lawful and necessary.
But the court on Monday dismissed Tokyo's argument.
It focused on whether Tokyo's program was "for purposes of" scientific research, however that was defined.
Judge Tomka said the key was whether "the elements of the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to its stated scientific objectives". Killing whales could be science and wasn't "unreasonable per se" in light of JARPA II's objectives, Judge Tomka said.
Furthermore, the fact whale meat was sold afterwards to fund future hunts didn't, on its own, mean the program fell outside the Article 8 exception. But the court found there could be a greater reliance on non-lethal methods. The court president said Tokyo should have analysed the feasibility of non-lethal methods when setting the quota size for taking whales.
The president said the fact the take of all species of whales was much lower than Japan's targets - often as a result of the activity of anti-whaling protests in the Southern Ocean - lent weight to Australia's argument sample size was relatively random.
"Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations under ... the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling," Judge Tomka said.
Mr Key says he doesn't expect Japan to start a new scientific whaling programme, because "the reality is it's been commercial whaling, and it's going to be very uncommercial for them to go down there and catch a very small number of whales".
Anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd says it will still prepare for whaling activity in the sanctuary in case Japan decides to quit the IWC and resume hunting.
NZN / 3 News