Whale conservation just took a significant step forward. Earlier this year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling that Japan’s whaling expeditions to the Southern Ocean are not scientific research and are therefore prohibited under a longstanding moratorium. A development that was every bit as significant as the ICJ’s ruling was the fact that Japan has agreed to abide by the decision. As the environmental columnist Andrew Revkin noted, “there’s plenty of wiggle room in the ruling, particularly in that it only applies to Japan’s whaling in the waters around Antarctica.” Norway and Iceland also continue to hunt whales. Yet Japan’s change of heart reflects a deeper shift in perceptions about eating whale meat among these last bulwarks of the hunts. Japan’s whaling program has been losing money as consumers have finally reacted to years of bad publicity surrounding the trade and have stopped buying the meat. As the New York Times notes, “hunts in recent years have relied on public subsidies, including money drawn from funds earmarked for Japan’s post-tsunami reconstruction.” The activities of Paul Watson, the Greenpeace founder-turned environmental pirate, have also played a role in raising global awareness. Watson and his crew on the ship named the Sea Shepherd staged a series of clashes with Japanese whalers around the southern oceans, leading to a flood of publicity. It may still be too soon for Sea Shepherd to return to port, but the possibility of global protection for whales is no longer in the distant future.

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