The Appeal to Science and the Formation of Global Animal Law

European Journal of International Law (Forthcoming)

Posted: 19 Jul 2015 Last revised: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Katie Sykes

Katie Sykes

Thompson Rivers University - Faculty of Law; Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law

Date Written: July 18, 2015


In 2014, two landmark international legal decisions made a significant contribution to the development of international law on the protection of animals: the report of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in EC-Seal Products, and the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Whaling in the Antarctic: Australia v. Japan. Science plays a significant role in both decisions. In EC-Seal Products, the WTO Appellate Body ruled that the European Union’s ban on seal products was justifiable under Article XX(a) of GATT as a matter of public morals, because it was based on European citizens’ moral objections to cruelty in seal hunting – concerns that were validated in part based on reports and evidence from scientific experts. In Whaling in the Antarctic, the ICJ ruled that Japan’s whaling programme in the Southern Ocean is not ‘for purposes of scientific research’ within the meaning of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling because it is not ‘reasonable’ in relation to its research objectives. Both cases, as well as the broader international controversies over whaling and sealing in the context of which they arose, illustrate the persuasive power of the ‘appeal to science’: enlisting scientific objectivity and rigour to underpin the credibility of legal arguments and legal norms. But the role of science in both cases, while important, is only auxiliary. The questions that the WTO and the ICJ had to resolve were fundamentally legal ones concerning the interpretation of the relevant treaties. The cases also implicated more profound questions of policy and ethics at stake in international conflicts over the protection and the exploitation of marine mammals.

Keywords: Animal Law, Global animal law, Whaling in the Antarctic, Seal Products, Public international law, International trade law

Suggested Citation

Sykes, Katie, The Appeal to Science and the Formation of Global Animal Law (July 18, 2015). European Journal of International Law (Forthcoming) , Available at SSRN:

Katie Sykes (Contact Author)

Thompson Rivers University - Faculty of Law ( email )

900 McGill Road
Kamloops, British Columbia

Dalhousie University - Schulich School of Law ( email )

6061 University Avenue
6061 University Ave
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H9

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