THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Court of Justice is ruling Monday on Japan's whaling program in Antarctic waters, in a case brought by Australia.
Japan hunts around a thousand mostly minke whales annually in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean as part of what it calls a scientific program. Australia and environmental groups say the hunt serves no scientific purpose and is just a way for Japan to get around a moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.
Although the popularity of whale meat is declining in Japan, it is considered a delicacy by some, and meat from the hunt is sold commercially.
Japan has said it will abide by the ruling of the court, known as the World Court, which is the United Nations' court for disputes between countries.
At the start of Monday's judgment hearing, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said the court has jurisdiction to hear the case, and it will be decided on the basis of whether Japan's whaling program can properly be considered scientific or not.
"Research objectives alone must be sufficient to justify the program," Tomka said.
Factors the court will consider include the scale of Japan's program; whether it meets the scientific targets it sets; and the degree to which the results of its hunt are coordinated with academic organizations.
Australia launched the case in 2010, and in July 2012 argued there was no need to kill any whales for scientific purposes.
Japan responded that Australia's suit is an attempt to use the court to impose its cultural standards on Japan, rather than any violation of international law.
No matter which way the court rules, it will not spell the immediate end of whaling: Japan conducts a smaller whaling program in the northern Pacific.
In addition, the International Whaling Commission is a voluntary organization, and Iceland and Norway have rejected its rules and conduct whale hunts for profit.