The Regulation of Southern Ocean Whaling: What Role for the Antarctic Treaty System?

16 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2009 Last revised: 6 Aug 2013

See all articles by Donald R. Rothwell

Donald R. Rothwell

ANU College of Law

Tim Stephens

The University of Sydney Law School


In 2009, the 1959 Antarctic Treaty celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Over its fifty-year existence the Treaty and the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) built upon it, have promoted freedom of scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Despite the many successes of the Antarctic legal regime, there has been growing disquiet over the conduct by Japan, an Antarctic Treaty party, of its 'special permit' whaling program in the Southern Ocean. This program now has a lengthy history stretching back to the late 1980s, and has been undertaken purportedly in reliance on the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, which allows whaling for scientific purposes in limited circumstances. It has also been pursued on the assumption that the global whaling regime takes priority over the disciplines imposed by the regionally-focussed Antarctic Treaty System which seeks, among other things, to promote scientific research in Antarctica and to protect the Antarctic ecosystem. This article examines the interaction between the Antarctic and whaling regimes and argues that the main environmental text in the ATS, the 1991 Environmental Protocol, imposes obligations upon Japan to minimise or eliminate the environmental risks of its burgeoning Southern Ocean whaling program.

Keywords: Public international law, Antarctica and Southern Ocean, regulation of whaling, Antarctic Treaty System, protection of the Antarctic environment

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33

Suggested Citation

Rothwell, Donald R. and Stephens, Tim, The Regulation of Southern Ocean Whaling: What Role for the Antarctic Treaty System?. Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 09/20, Available at SSRN: or

Donald R. Rothwell (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

Tim Stephens

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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