Sea Shepherd's continuous opposition to illegal Japanese whaling is bearing fruit. There is a limit to just how deep in debt the Japanese government is willing to go to continue subsidizing an industry that loses money and diminishes the prestige of Japan in the eyes of the world.
Last month, Sea Shepherd prevented the killing of whales for more than three weeks. That not only cost the whalers by ensuring they will not get their quota, it also forced them to use over 2500 tons of fuel in the pursuit and that conservatively would have cost them over two million U.S. dollars spent on fuel without a slain whale to show for it.
Disruptions over the last few years have resulted in the whalers being unable to reach their quotas. Last year's devastating fire onboard the Nisshin Maru cost millions of dollars in repairs.
Japan is spending tens of millions of dollars bribing small nations to vote to overturn the global whaling ban imposed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. They are spending money on public relations and sending armed Coast Guard units to the Southern Ocean.
The Institute for Cetacean Research is presently in debt on interest free loan repayments to the Japanese government to the tune of over US $37 million.
The demand for whale meat in Japan is falling. The whaling industry is in deep financial trouble and without government subsidies would have died years ago.
The Japanese whaling industry is nothing more than a glorified welfare scheme and the whaling industry executives and whaling crew reduced to nothing more than pathetic beggars existing on hand-outs from Japanese tax-payers.
"We must continuously hound them, we need to constantly nip on their heels and harass them, blockade them, worry them and annoy them," said Captain Paul Watson. "We will never rest, never retreat and never surrender to their illegal acts of cetacide. We intend to be in their face, up close and personal until we vanquish those vicious harpoons from the waters of the Southern Ocean forever. We will make whaling into the most expensive and embarrassing issue for Japan that we can."
The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin is presently heading south towards the coast of Antarctica in search of the Japanese whaling fleet in round two of Operation Migaloo. Once the fleet is located, the Steve Irwin will once again intervene and harass the Japanese whaling fleet with the objective of shutting down all whaling activity.
Captain Paul Watson has also responded to recent criticisms that what Sea Shepherd is doing is unsafe and puts human life at risk.
"Of course it's unsafe," He replied. "We're not ocean posing down here, pretending to take risks, pretending to be heroes. This is a bloody risky venture and it always has been. As Captain John Paul Jones once said, 'give me a fair ship and I'll sail her into harm's way.' I have a fair ship and that is exactly what I am doing, sailing into harm's way to block explosive harpoons, taking on a hostile whaling fleet that outnumbers us 7 to 1 and taking on one of the most powerful and ruthless nations on the planet. Would we die to save a whale? Why not? People are dying right now to defend oil wells and for religion. How much more noble it is to take these risks for an endangered species and for the future heritage of this planet. I could proudly die for this cause and one day I surely will, but I can't imagine the alternative of doing nothing as these magnificent sentient beings, these gentle harmless Buddha's are cruelly slaughtered and exterminated."
The following article from the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's national newspaper, illustrates the financial situation in which the Japanese whaling industry now finds itself:
"Japan's research whaling now facing problems at home"
By Kenji Oyamada, The Asahi Shimbun
Japan's research whaling has long been criticized from around the world as commercial whaling in disguise. Now, research whaling faces a domestic blow--stagnant sales of whale meat.
A series of accidents involving whaling ships last year and disruptive protests from overseas activists have also hurt the finances of a government-affiliated foundation in charge of research whaling.
The problems have become so big that the Institute of Cetacean Research, an outside body of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, is struggling to pay back its interest-free loans to the government. The institute received a total of 3.6 billion yen in interest-free operational loans from another government affiliate, the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation, in fiscal 2006.
The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but the whaling convention allows Japan to catch whales for scientific research.
According to the foundation's settlement of accounts for fiscal 2006, it failed to pay back about 1 billion yen of the loan package. The institute had planned to repay all of its debts by the end of July last year, but the government allowed it to repay the loans in installments over four years from fiscal 2007.
The institute first received a public loan package of 1.2 billion yen in its fiscal 2001 accounting year when the quantity of whale catches increased. It supplied 2,450 tons of whale meat to the domestic market in fiscal 2000 and 2,620 tons the following year.
The amount supplied to the market gradually increased to a high of 5,560 tons in fiscal 2005, and the annual amount of loans correspondingly rose to
3.6 billion yen in fiscal 2005 and 2006.
Aiming to strengthen "ecological research," the institute increased the research whaling quota to 850 catches in the season covering 2005 and 2006, compared with 440 in the previous season.
The amount of whale meat supplied to the market jumped by 30 percent over the same period, and the institute, which does not aim to make a profit, cut the price of whale meat by 20 percent.
The lower price, however, reduced revenue from whale meat by 6 percent, institute officials said. Meanwhile, the cost of whaling rose by 10 percent because the institute increased the number of whaling vessels from five to six to meet the higher quota.
One institute official acknowledged that the 20-percent price cut was "too much" when operational expenses are taken into account. In the institute's settlement of accounts for fiscal 2006, it posted a loss of 700 million yen. It also did not provide reserve payments to the government that had previously amounted to tens of millions of yen annually.
Officials of the institute and the fisheries ministry said a fire and other accidents involving whaling vessels last fiscal year contributed largely to the loss. They said the institute should be able to balance its budget this fiscal year.
Escalating protests by activists against Japanese whaling vessels forced them to suspend operations in January.
While whaling resumed soon afterward, further protests by activists could suspend operations anew. If that happens, the supply of whale meat may be reduced, further hurting the institute's budget.
The Tokyo-based research whaling company Kyodo Senpaku was formed in 1987 by consolidating whaling departments of Japanese fisheries companies. Due to the global protest against whaling and waning profitability, three major fisheries companies withdrew from Kyodo Senpaku's operation in 2006.
The company became a publicly supported whaling monopoly, whose purpose is to maintain Japan's whaling tradition. Kyodo Senpaku is a for-profit company that collects, processes and sells wholesale whale specimens on behalf of the research institute.
In the year that ended in October 2007, Kyodo Senpaku recorded sales of 6 billion yen with a net profit of 5 million yen.
Most of the revenue came from commission fees on sales of whale meat to wholesale markets and charter fees of its whaling vessels paid by the institute.
One problem facing the company is its difficulty in recruiting young workers willing to stay long enough to learn whaling skills.
In addition, the long and distant voyages are a turn-off for young people,
company officials said.
Critics have questioned the government's policy of maintaining the country's whaling tradition at any cost when it faces a huge financial deficit and other problems.