Will this be Sea Shepherd’s last Antarctic Campaign?
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Will this be Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s last Antarctic campaign? I sincerely hope so, and the outlook is promising that the whale wars in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary may be coming to an end. The writing is on the wall for the Japanese whalers.
This is the weakest the Japanese whaling fleet has ever been, with just a factory ship and three harpoon vessels. The Shonan Maru No. 2 security ship is no longer with the whaling fleet, and the spotter vessels are no longer part of the poaching operation either.
But, this is the strongest the Sea Shepherd fleet has ever been. We have three vessels, a new longer-range helicopter, new equipment, and three incredibly dedicated volunteer crews.
We have not heard anything from Glen Inwood, or Ginza Glen, as we like to call him, the New Zealand mouthpiece for the whalers. He is strangely silent this season, and perhaps his public relations contract with the whalers has not been renewed.
The Japanese economy is in trouble. The value of the Japanese yen has been falling recently, and the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) has become an economic liability for the Japanese government, in addition to being a constant irritation for the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The whaling industry has also been scandalized by charges of bribery, embezzlement, and corruption.
Every year Japan is humiliated at the International Whaling Commission, and now Australia wants to haul Japan before the International Court in The Hague to challenge their activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
On January 20, 2011, Kyodo Senpaku, the Japan Whaling Association, and the Institute of Cetacean Research held a media conference.
Kazuo Murayama, the CEO of Kyodo Senpaku and the head of the Japan Whaling Association reported “annual sales (whale meat) have decreased 30% during the first half of 2010.” In response he announced that JWA’s activities may be decreased as a result. The Institute of Cetacean Research announced that it has reduced the number of its executive directors to one. Yoshihiro Fujise, the remaining Executive Director stated that the “financial model of covering the research costs by selling whale meat as a ‘byproduct’ of the research no longer worked.”
Publications like New Scientist and marine biologists from around the world have condemned the so-called scientific justification of the whaling operations. The hysterical rantings of the ICR on Facebook, their website, and in media releases has become focused on condemnation of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. What they call piracy, eco-terrorism, and militant extremism is simply what we call conservative anti-poaching operations. Sea Shepherd is simply defending the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Critics of Sea Shepherd have said the only reason that Japan continues to kill whales is because of Sea Shepherd, and that the Japanese have too much pride to back down from opposition from a non-governmental organization. Statements from the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the ICR seem to suggest that this has now become a matter of saving face. There now seems to be an obsession with destroying Sea Shepherd with the Japanese Foreign Ministry increasing pressure on the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand to neutralize Sea Shepherd.
Some anti-whaling critics have suggested that Sea Shepherd back off from opposing the Japanese whalers to allow them to exit with grace. I disagree. The Japanese whaling fleet is where it is now because of Sea Shepherd. We have taken their profits away, and increased their operating costs for six straight years. They are now in debt so badly that the subsidy loans from the Japanese government will only continue to increase. We cannot back off and allow them to make any profit that may be applied to the repayment of these loans.
Our objective is not to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese public. Winning the hearts and minds of the majority of Canadians did not influence the policies of the Canadian government, whose reaction to more and more Canadians opposing the seal slaughter was to become more entrenched in their defense of the killing of seals. The seal hunt is also an industry that survives because of corporate welfare from the Canadian federal government.
In a true free market system, both the Japanese whale hunt and the Canadian seal hunt would have expired by going bankrupt. Now both enterprises continue to survive because of this new invention called corporate communism. However in both cases, and despite government handouts, both whaling and sealing continue to decline, as there is no hope of realizing any so-called profit in the foreseeable future. In effect, both are dead industries surviving by the grace of politicians and bureaucrats. Public opinion has little impact on these decisions. In fact with Japan, it can be argued that outside public opinion or gaiatsu as it is known in Japan, carries more weight than domestic pressure.
The Japanese media tends to be nationalistic and pro-government. For a long time, the average Japanese citizen was completely unaware of the whaling operations in the Southern Ocean. It was the drama of the confrontations with Sea Shepherd that made the Japanese public aware.
Sea Shepherd’s objective has long been to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically – to bankrupt them, and it is a strategy that appears to be working.
Despite the propaganda from Japan, Sea Shepherd is not doing anything illegal. None of our ships have been charged or detained, we have not been reprimanded, and we have not been charged with a crime, not even by Japan. Sea Shepherd ships have access to Australian and New Zealand ports, Japanese whaling ships do not. The Japanese whalers are also officially in contempt of an Australian Federal Court order prohibiting the killing of whales in Australian territorial waters.
In 2010, Pete Bethune was charged as an individual when he boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 because he became subject to Japanese law once onboard a Japanese ship. The decision to board the whaling fleet security vessel that had sunk his vessel the Ady Gil, was made by Bethune. Sea Shepherd supported his decision, and paid for his defense in Japan. However, nothing that Sea Shepherd ships have done has been illegal or even a breach of maritime regulations.
Not once has a Sea Shepherd ship rammed a Japanese whaler in the Southern Ocean, on the contrary, it was the Japanese harpoon vessels that initiated the collisions in every case. In past years, they did the same with Greenpeace ships and back then, they also accused Greenpeace of initiating the collisions. Since Greenpeace has a clear policy of not ramming ships, the Japanese accusations lost credibility when they made the same accusations against Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd is not against ramming the vessels operated by poachers. We have done so in the past, however in the case of the defense of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, our policy is to intercept, harass and block, and not to ram the whaling vessels.
It is a strategy that is working and every year we cut the kill quotas more than the year before as our resources become stronger. This year we have completely removed two of three harpoon vessels for the entire first month of whaling operations, and we have kept the remaining harpoon vessel and the Nisshin Maru factory ship on the run for 80 percent of the time, allowing them for little time to stop and kill whales.
We are confident that the kill numbers this year will be well below last year’s figures, when we were able to prevent the killing of more whales than they actually were able to kill. In other words, it is about the body count. Our objective is to keep the body count as low as possible and the whalers have an objective of killing 935 Minke whales, 50 humpbacks, and 50 fin whales for a total of 1035 whales. Last year they killed 507 whales, and we saved 528 whales.
There was no argument about last year’s success. The whalers themselves credited us with this by whining about the economic damage we did to their so-called research industry.
And now, we are coming down to the wire. Demand for whale meat in Japan is down. There is a surplus of whale meat being kept frozen at great expense in warehouses in Japan. The value of the yen is falling. New International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules, which will prohibit the use of heavy oil fuels in Antarctica after August 2011, will make the Nisshin Maru’s machinery operations illegal. Japan needs a replacement factory ship, but has not even begun to build one. Australia is taking Japan to the International Court in The Hague. International public protests against Japanese whaling and dolphin killing are increasing. Allegations of bribery and corruption within the whaling industry and the Japanese government, are surfacing more and more.
Thus there is a very real possibility that Japan may not send a whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean at the end of this year, and if they do, we will be prepared to oppose them once again. But we would rather not. We would rather that the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary be left in peace. We have spent seven seasons intervening against these whale poachers. Each season gives us more support than the year before, and each season increases our resources, strengthens our supply lines, and increases our effectiveness.
We must be prepared to return again in December 2011, and we must be prepared to come back even stronger. To be 100 percent effective, we could use a third large ship, or another ship with the speed to exceed that of the harpoon vessels. The Gojira is an excellent scout ship but we need a little more muscle. With one ship to keep each of the harpoon vessels occupied, we could be more effective. If the Japanese whalers return with four ships, Sea Shepherd should return with four ships as well.
And if they don’t return, we will be in a position to move our operations to the North Atlantic to once again challenge the outlaw whalers of Norway, Iceland, and the Danish Faroe Islands.