SYDNEY, Australia, November 18, 2015 (ENS) – In a momentous victory for whales, the Australian Federal Court has found a Japanese whaling company guilty of contempt of court for killing minke whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, in violation of a 2008 injunction and Australian law.

The court fined Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd. A$1 million, or A$250,000 for every year of whaling in the sanctuary, in the lawsuit brought by the Humane Society International/Australia.

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Minke whale near the coast of Antarctica, Feb. 2013 (Photo by ravas51)

This is one of the largest fines ever imposed under the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It comes as Japan readies its whaling vessels for new whale killing in the Southern Ocean next month.

In her ruling, Judge Jayne Jagot commented on the “deliberate, systematic and sustained” conduct of Kyodo in killing these whales, and took into account that Kyodo did not appear at the trial.

The judge said the fine needed to be significantly large in order to “denounce the conduct of Kyodo” and to act as a deterrent to other whalers.

The judge said that whether or not Kyodo can pay the fine, or whether it would cause a financial burden on Kyodo, was not a relevant consideration.

Since the global moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission, Japan has defied the ban and killed more than 15,000 whales in the name of scientific research.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has confronted the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean for more than a decade, congratulated HSI, and the Environmental Defenders Office of New South Wales who acted for HSI in the case.

“This is an incredible win for the whales,” said Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia. “Sea Shepherd extends heartfelt congratulations to HSI on the victory and on their determination to see the Japanese whale poachers brought to justice.”

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Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker encounters the Japanese whaler Yushin Maru 2 with a minke whale in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, Feb. 15, 2013 (Screengrab from video courtesy Sea Shepherd Australia)

An affidavit provided by Sea Shepherd’s Captain Peter Hammarstedt was submitted as evidence in the contempt case.

Hammarstedt, who was then captain of the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, witnessed the slaughter of a protected minke whale by the Japanese whaling fleet inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary, 60 nautical miles from the Australian managed Davis Base.

In the affidavit, Captain Hammarstedt states, “One of the crew members then said to me words to the effect of: ‘The harpoon has been fired.’ I stepped away from the helm to confirm for myself that the gunner on the Yushin Maru No. 2 had fired the harpoon and hit a whale. I saw through binoculars thrashing in the water that I assumed to be from a whale in front of the bow of the Yushin Maru No. 2.”

Following the judgment, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States and Sea Shepherd all are calling for increased diplomatic pressure on Japan to abide by an International Court of Justice ruling to stop whale killing in the Southern Ocean.

Japan is poised to defy that ruling with a revised ‘research’ whaling programme beginning in December to kill 333 whales in the Southern Ocean every year between 2015 and 2027 – a total of 4,000 minke whales.

Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International, said, “Our Australian colleagues have won an historic victory for whales, and the court found decisively that Japan blatantly defied Australian law by killing whales in its sanctuary waters.”

“It is now imperative that whale-friendly nations across the world come together to increase maximum pressure on Japan to abide by the legally agreed moratorium on commercial whaling and stop trying to work around it,” said Block. “Hundreds more whales are set to die next month for a bogus whaling programme that has no scientific justification.”

Michael Kennedy, HSI/Australia director, said, “If the Japanese government sanctions whaling in Antarctic waters by Kyodo again this year, as we fear it will, and Kyodo continues to ignore the 2008 injunction and the decision of the Federal Court, it is critical that the Australian Government raises this issue with the Japanese government in the most forceful way possible.”

Sea Shepherd called on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ensure that Japan’s illegal whaling operations are at the top of the agenda during his visit to Japan in December.

“The onus for stopping Japan from returning to Antarctica to slaughter whales this year now lies directly with the Australian government,” said Hammarstedt.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must ensure that Australia’s stance against whaling in the Southern Ocean is a priority in his upcoming discussions with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe,” he said. “To do otherwise would be to lose the faith of the Australian people who are so passionately committed to the protection of the whales.”

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