Japan’s bid to uphold its traditional custom of whaling for food appears to have met an unceremonious end today with an International Court of Justice ruling. Up until now, Antarctic harvesting and subsequent distribution of whale meat has been conditional on the notion that the industry is a byproduct of ongoing science research, that is, it was okay to butcher specimens used in studies regarding topics such as reproduction and whale anatomy. The ICJ ruling, however, analyzed what tallies as 900 dead whales a year, and found that just two peer-reviewed papers have been published in the past nine years, and those involved a total of nine whales.
The ruling, which was ratified with a 12-4 vote, cannot be appealed. Japanese officials say they’ll abide by it, but it’s hard to say who’d enforce it if they didn’t. The centuries-old practice has deep roots — one can buy whale meat in tuna-fish-style tins in ordinary stores — and Japan even signed an international agreement in 1986 pledging to curb whaling. Because of the cultural precedent and the lack of adherence to previous commitments, NPR reports it is possible that officials will back out of agreements to end its whaling practices.