The Environmental Defenders Office has been at the forefront of the legal strategy to protect whales from illegal whaling in the Australian waters of the Antarctic.

Acting on behalf of client Humane Society International – Australia (HSI), EDO first took action against Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd (Kyodo) in 2004, to stop it from whaling in breach of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act).

Kyodo owned ships that conducted whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary for the Japanese Whale Research program. There was evidence that Kyodo had killed 3558 minke whales and 13 fin whales since 2000/2001, with most of those killings taking place in the Sanctuary. The evidence also indicated that Kyodo intended to start taking humpback whales in the 2007/2008 season.

This was a complex case run over several court appearances to establish the jurisdiction of the Federal Court and the right of HSI to serve documents on Kyodo.

In 2008, EDO secured a victory when the Federal Court declared that Kyodo was breaching the EPBC Act. The Court granted an injunction to restrain Kyodo from further breaches.

HSI representatives travelled to Japan to serve the injunction on Kyodo. But Japan didn’t comply with that injunction and continued what it described as ‘scientific’ whaling in the Sanctuary between 2008 and 2013. 

In 2014, the International Court of Justice declared Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling illegal. Despite this ruling, the Japanese Government indicated it would continue to allow companies to hunt whales in Antarctic waters. 

With the whaling program due to recommence around December 2015, HSI sought to enforce the 2008 injunction. On 18 November 2015, the Federal Court ruled that Kyodo was in contempt of Court for continuing to kill whales in the Sanctuary despite the 2008 injunction. The Court fined the company $AU1 million.

Japan has now left the International Whaling Commission – which placed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 – and resumed commercial whaling in its own territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone in 2019.1

EDO provided HSI with further advice on the legal avenues for compelling payment of the fine, however given Japan has stopped whaling in the Sanctuary it is unlikely these avenues will be pursued. 

EDO New South Wales is the legal entity acting in this case. EDO NSW began trading as EDO Ltd in September 2019.

  1. BBC World News Asia