The Japanese online retailer Rakuten is to end all online sales of whale and dolphin meat by the end of this month after the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to immediately halt its annual whale hunts in the Southern Ocean.
The decision by Rakuten comes soon after the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory.
Rakuten said it had asked sellers to cancel sales of whale meat products on its Web site “in accordance” with the court’s ruling.
However, the verdict in The Hague did not cover whale meat sales in Japan or its slaughter of whales in the northwest Pacific and in its own coastal waters.
EIA senior campaigner Clare Perry said: “The removal of thousands of ads for whale products is a very welcome step and a clear recognition by Rakuten that selling the meat of endangered and protected whales and dolphins is seriously harmful to both its global reputation and customers’ health.”
In its Blood E-Commerce report, the conservation group said tests had revealed that some cetacean products advertised by Rakuten contained levels of mercury up to 20 times higher than the Japanese regulatory limit.
Rakuten’s acquisitions include Buy.com (now Rakuten Shopping) in the US and Play.com in the UK. It owns the Canadian e-book reader Kobo and is a major shareholder in Pinterest.
“Rakuten, which has expanded its global presence in recent years, has also requested these merchants to remove all related items from their online shops within the next 30 days,” the firm said.
The ruling, in support of a legal campaign by the Australian government, last week prompted Japanese authorities to call off next winter’s whale hunt in the antarctic.
It is the first time the antarctic hunt has been canceled in more than a quarter of a century.
Japan launched its whaling program after the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986.
Rakuten’s Web site carried more than 28,000 advertisements for elephant ivory and 1,200 for whale products, according to the EIA and the Humane Society International.