Japan cancels next Antarctic whaling hunt: Official

Captured short-finned pilot whales on the deck of a whaling ship at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km southwest of Tokyo, in June 2008. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Captured short-finned pilot whales on the deck of a whaling ship at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km southwest of Tokyo, in June 2008. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is cancelling its next Antarctic whaling hunt for the first time in more than 25 years, an official said on Thursday, just days after the UN's International Court of Justice ordered an end to the controversial practice.

"We have decided to cancel research whaling (in the Antarctic) for the fiscal year starting in April because of the recent ruling," a fisheries agency official told AFP.

But he added that "we plan to go ahead with research whaling in other areas as scheduled", including the northern Pacific.

On Monday, the Hague-based ICJ issued a landmark ruling that found the Antarctic programme was a commercial activity disguised as science, and said Tokyo must revoke existing whaling licences.

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

Tokyo has used a legal loophole in the 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allowed it to continue slaughtering the mammals, ostensibly so it could gather scientific data.

However, it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts can end on dining tables.

Japan also has a coastal whaling programme that is not covered by the ban.

The next Antarctic hunt would have started in late 2014. The most recent finished last month.