Japan then announced it was cancelling its hunt for the first time in a quarter century.
The ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a victory for the Australian government, which has fought for years to prove that there is no scientific reason for targeting 850 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales each year.
Critics have said Japan’s harpooning of the marine mammals was strictly to provide whale meat for domestic consumption under the ruse of research.
But changing appetites in Japan may have a far greater impact on the whaling industry than the ICJ ruling.
Even with greatly reduced whale kills in recent years, domestic stockpiles of whale meat have doubled over the past 10 years.
Amounts of meat equivalent to 2,300 minke whales are said to be sitting in freezers.
The government-subsidized whaling program is also operating at a sizable deficit while its mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, is due for a costly overhaul.
And the conservation group Sea Shepherd has recently been very successful in interfering with Japan’s whaling efforts on the high seas.
“A resumption of commercial whaling is not a realistic option anymore,” said Ayako Okubo, marine science researcher at Tokai University.