Japan confirmed Friday it will comply with last week's ruling by the International Court of Justice and halt its annual whale hunting operations in the Antarctic Ocean.

In a March 31 ruling, the ICJ, the United Nation's highest court, ordered Japan to stop granting permits for whale hunts in the Antarctic. Japan has a long history of hunting whales and had been taking advantage of a loophole in a worldwide ban on whaling established in 1986; Japan chalked up its annual hunts for what it said were scientific and research purposes.

Whaling for profit is banned internationally, and Japan could have ignored the court order and gone the way of Iceland and Norway, which openly defy the international ban against whaling. Japan is one of the largest buyers of Icelandic whale meat. Japan also conducts other "scientific" whaling operations in other parts of the world, and the ICJ ruling does not apply to those operations.

However, some people close to the situation suggest that the ICJ ruling may have given Japan a convenient political way out of a sensitive situation.

Masayuki Komatsu, a former fisheries official in Japan who has actively defended Japanese hunts against the International Whaling Commission, told The Associated Press that the Japanese government may have been trying to lose the court battle.

"It seemed to me they were anxious to lose," Komatsu said.

The international community largely saw Japan's use of the science loophole as a cover-up for a large commercial whaling operation. Japanese whaling vessels were regular targets of anti-whaling groups, sush as The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Japan argued that that the ICJ does not have the authority to decide what is - or is not - science. It called the lawsuit, which was brought on by Australia in 2010, an attempt to force Western cultural norms on Japan, which it said would be equivalent to Hindus demanding an international ban on killing cows, the Washington Post reported.

But, somewhat conveniently, with an international order to halt Antarctic whaling, Japan can avoid paying for its own costly overhaul of its whaling program while also avoiding criticism that is is caving to anti-whaling campaigners, the AP's Mari Yamaguchi reported.

An official close to the matter but unauthorized to speak on the record tole the AP that Japan "didn't go to court in order to lose. But it was obvious that the whaling program had to be changed."