(CN) - Japan must stop its annual Antarctic whaling program because it is not truly for scientific research, the International Court of Justice ruled in The Hague.
Australia sued Japan in 2010, calling Japan's JARPA II "scientific research" program a bogus cover that violates international bans on commercial whaling.
In a 12-4 ruling Monday, the court said "the evidence does not establish that the programme's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives."
It is generally agreed that Japan does not kill whales for research, but to satisfy its people's demand for whale meat.
The court found that the open-ended time frame of the program, the limited scientific output and lack of cooperation with other international research programs "cast further doubt" on the program's actually being scientific research.
"The court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not for purposes of scientific research," it said.
There is no evidence that Japan studied nonlethal methods of whale research before deciding to use lethal methods, the court found.
"The court also finds no evidence that Japan examined whether it would be feasible to combine a smaller lethal take and an increase in non-lethal sampling as a means to achieve JARPA II's research objectives," it said.
Criticism of Japan's whaling program grew after the 2008 debut of "Whale Wars," a reality television series about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The group has used its own boats to find and harass JARPA II vessels into stopping whaling activities for several years.
If Japan ignores the court's ruling, Sea Shepherd said it will have its ships prepared to confront the Japanese whaling fleet in December.
"If the Japanese whaling fleet returns, Sea Shepherd crew will be there to uphold this ruling against the pirate whalers of Japan," the group said in a statement this week.
Sea Shepherd Captain Alex Cornelissen said the court "has taken a fair and just stance on the right side of history by protecting the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the vital marine ecosystem of Antarctica, a decision that impacts the international community and future generations."
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research sued
Sea Shepherd in Seattle Federal Court in December 2011, claiming the group "violently and dangerously attacked" its ships, in violation of the High Seas Convention.
The 9th Circuit ruled
in favor of the ICR, calling Sea Shepherd pirates.
"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the court. "When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."
Sea Shepherd fired back, suing the ICR in Portland Federal Court in February 2013 over a ship collision that cut one of its ships, the Ady Gil, in half.