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Whaling ban applauded in spite of fears that Japan will find loopholes

SYDNEY--Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday applauded a court decision that Japan must halt its annual Antarctic whale hunt, but raised fears it could sidestep the order and begin whaling again under a new “scientific” guise.

The United Nations' Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled on Monday that Japan's whaling program was a commercial activity disguised as science, and said it must revoke existing whaling licenses.

A “deeply disappointed” Tokyo said it would honor the ruling but did not exclude the possibility of future whaling program, with New Zealand expressing concerns Japan may try to circumvent the order.

“The ICJ decision sinks a giant harpoon into the legality of Japan's whaling program,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.

“It still does leave Japan with a decision to make after they've digested this, which is to look at whether they try to devise a new programme that is scientifically based that they could embark upon whaling in the Southern Ocean again.

“Our task is to make sure that we carry out a diplomatic conversation that dissuades them from embarking on that course.”

A Japanese minister on Tuesday defended whaling — seen by some as an important cultural practice — but stopped short of detailing what next steps Japan would take.

“Whale meat is an important source of food, and the government's position to use it based on scientific facts has not changed,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference.

“We will scrutinize the verdict and study (measures to be taken) swiftly,” he said according to the Jiji news agency. Japan also has a coastal whaling program which is not covered by the ban.

Australia, backed by New Zealand, hauled Japan before the ICJ in 2010 in a bid to end the annual Southern Ocean hunt.

Tokyo has long been accused of exploiting a legal loophole in the 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allowed the practice to collect scientific data. Japan has killed 10,000 of the giant mammals under the scheme since 1988, Australia has alleged.

Japan had argued that its JARPA II research programme was aimed at studying the viability of whale hunting, but the ICJ found it had failed to examine ways of doing the research without killing whales, or at least while killing fewer of them.

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