It is November 27th, and the Japanese whaling fleet has not yet left Japan. Never before have they been this late in departing from Japan to head to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to slaughter whales. The whalers have not officially said they will not be returning to the Southern Ocean, but they are acting as if they may not be returning to the coast of Antarctica this season.
Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the whale wars in the Southern Ocean? What a wonderful thing that would be - 935 Minke, 50 humpback and 50 fin whales will all be spared.
We can only hope, and wonder at the same time, just what kind of game the whalers are playing. Over the last ten years, the whaling fleet has consistently left between November 6th, and November 19th. The Fisheries Agency, the Institute of Cetacean Research, and the whaling company Kyodo Senpaku, have all declined comment on the departure delay.
One of their problems is that they have not found a refueling ship. The Hiyo Maru No.2, formally named the Oriental Bluebird, has been sold by its owner Daito Trading Company to China to be scrapped. "The ship is too old to operate," Daito Trading Co. official Yoshikazu Kurashige said.
The ship was sold in August, and the whalers had plenty of time to find a replacement ship. However, their challenge is finding a company willing to charter a vessel for the Southern Ocean, risk harassment from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and be associated with the illegal poaching activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.
The whaling fleet normally arrives in the Antarctic Ocean in mid-December, and starts the return voyage in March, arriving back in Japan in April. "The factory ship Nisshin Maru, is presently moored at Innoshima port in Hiroshima Prefecture," commented an official for Universal Shipbuilding Corporation, who provides maintenance for the vessel.
Pressure on Japan to end their controversial whaling activities is increasing. In May of this year, Australia initiated a legal action at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to end Japan's research whaling in the Antarctic. At the same time, stockpiles of frozen whale meat have increased to 5,670 tons, the highest since 1999. Evidence that the market is collapsing.
The Japan Times reported, "Japan caught 506 Minke whales and a blue whale in the Antarctic during last winter's season, which ran from December to March. The catch has been decreasing due to obstruction by the radical environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society."
However, the Japan Times made a mistake. They whalers did not kill a blue whale; they killed one fin whale of their self-awarded quota of 50, which was zero of 50 the year before. Over the last two years, they have not taken a single one of the 100 humpback whales they intended to kill.
The whalers may quit the whaling grounds completely this year or they may make it a shorter season with a reduced quota. They are prepared for a confrontation with the three Sea Shepherd ships presently being readied for departure in Tasmania.
For the first time in three years, armed Japanese Coast Guard officers will be onboard the Japanese whaling vessels to defend the whaling activities from Sea Shepherd intervention. In fiscal 2007, three coast guards were deployed aboard whaling vessels for security purposes for the first time ever.
According to Nobutaka Tsutsui, senior vice minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the Japanese fleet will soon depart for the Southern Ocean. Tsutsui also informed the Japanese media that Sea Shepherd "is stepping up its activities against Japan's so-called research whaling."
What this means for Sea Shepherd is that for the first time in history, Sea Shepherd's fleet will be in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary before the Japanese whaling fleet arrives. We will be waiting for them this year, and the sooner we find them, the sooner we can shut them down. During last year's Operation Waltzing Matilda campaign, we saved more whales than the whalers killed. They slaughtered 507 whales, and we saved 528, but our objective this year is to save them all. That is our challenge, and we intend to invest all our energies and experience into achieving this goal.
The Sea Shepherd fleet will depart from Hobart, Australia on December 2nd. The three ships Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, and Gojira are all fully outfitted and equipped for the three-month campaign to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.