AP Analysis: Ruling that scrapped Antarctic whaling gives Japan face-saving way to end program

The Associated Press

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Australian Customs Service shows what the Australian government says is the slain carcasses of a minke whale and her calf being hauled aboard the Japanese harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2 in Antarctic waters. The international court ruling against Japanese whaling last week may have given the government a convenient political out. In a March 31 ruling, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Japan to stop granting permits for its Antarctic whaling program, which allowed an annual cull of about 1,000 whales. (AP Photo/Australian Customs Service, File) NO SALES, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

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The ruling technically leaves the door open for Japan to try to design a new hunt that would qualify as scientific, but any new program would face intense scrutiny. And it will only get more expensive: The program's aging mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, will soon be retired and would need to be replaced.

Officials generally agree that the most likely scenario is for Japan to withdraw from the Antarctic.

Japan's whaling operations can continue off its own coast, as well as in the north Pacific, where it culls about 300 minke whales annually through a separate research program. But that research program could be questioned when Japan goes to the International Whaling Commission, the main body that regulates whaling, for annual renewal.

Some hardline lawmakers say Japan should quit the commission and return to commercial whaling. But most officials and experts say such a drastic step would undermine Japan's efforts to promote the international rule of law, notably when it comes to territorial disputes with China and South Korea.

Perhaps as importantly, questions remain about whether commercial whaling would be economically sustainable, given the declining appetite for whale meat in Japan.

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