With Japan having just made its closing argument in the International Court of Justice case launched by Australia, some highlights from a debate we hosted back in March between Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson and Griffith University's Michael Heazle.

First, Paul Watson:

Sea Shepherd is in the Southern Ocean because it is an internationally established sanctuary for whales and it is also an Australian sanctuary for whales. The key word here is 'sanctuary' and both the international community and Australia recognise these waters as a sanctuary for whales. The bottom line is that whales should not be slaughtered in a whale sanctuary.

Japan is targeting endangered Fin and Humpback whales and protected Antarctic Minke whales in this sanctuary and they are doing so in violation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling that came into effect in 1986. The Japanese whaling fleet is also in contempt of a ruling by the Australian Federal Court prohibiting the killing of whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. The court ruled that the whalers were in violation of the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Japan is also in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna.

Michael Heazle:

I am genuinely concerned with the issue of whale conservation...and I believe the best way to ensure this happens is for the IWC to regulate whaling again, which is something the commission has been unable to do since the moratorium took effect in 1986 (the moratorium was, by the way, adopted as a temporary measure and against the advice of the IWC Scientific Committee).

Continuing the kind of hardline position adopted by Australia, which helped wreck the IWC's most recent (US-led) compromise initiative in 2010, can only result in Japan and the other whaling countries leaving the IWC sooner rather than later, which will effectively reduce the IWC to little more than a whale protectionist club and end any prospect for international supervision of whaling in the future.

Watson:

Japan does not adhere to its obligations to the IWC as Mr Heazle suggests, because Japan's so-called 'scientific research' whaling is bogus and everyone knows it. We have witnessed the whales killed, brought onboard and quickly processed without a single scientific measurement taking place. The number of whales killed under Japan's self-allotted scientific permits since 1987 is twenty times the number of whales killed under scientific permit by all nations from 1950 to date.

Heazle:

The IWC's convention clearly grants member states the right to run scientific whaling programs, and it is under this provision that Japan legally takes a number of mostly minke whales in the Antarctic, since it is scientific and not commercial whaling.

What Mr Watson does not acknowledge is that Japanese scientists regularly present information on findings, methods and progress relating to this research (both lethal and non-lethal) to the IWC Scientific Committee, where it is peer reviewed. Criticism of the research is made, as is normal with peer review, as are recommendations and also statements acknowledging the contribution it makes.

Not surprisingly, given the controversial nature of whaling, opinions on the research and its contribution within the Scientific Committee have been and remain divided, particularly over the topic of lethal sampling (which a simple majority of the commission opposes). But to claim, as Mr Watson does, that there is no research going on and that therefore Japan is breaking international law by whaling commercially is not a balanced representation of what has been happening (it's also worth noting that much of the IWC's field research is made possible by Japan's provision of ships).

Photo by Picasa user Gary Story.