The homecoming for the Japanese whaling fleet on March 21, 2011 in Tokyo Bay was a very subdued affair, and most certainly a relief for the captains and crew of this notorious killing fleet. Sea Shepherd forced the whalers into an ignoble retreat from the Southern Ocean in mid February, resulting in much criticism from politicians and media who claimed that the whalers' retreat was a cowardly decision.
Considering the recent tragedy in Japan, the disgrace of the Japanese whaling fleet is not much of a story. The Nisshin Maru factory ship, the ship we call the Cetacean Death Star, and the rest of the whaling fleet were still at sea when the earthquake and tsunami struck. In an effort to redeem themselves in the eyes of their countrymen, the Nisshin Maru will be soon doing something really useful - shipping supplies north to aid victims of the tsunami and earthquake.
Our hearts and sympathies do go out to the men and women in the whaling fleet who may have lost family and friends to the disaster. I personally know how frustrating it is to be at sea when there is a loss in the family. During the recent New Zealand earthquake, the officers aboard the HMNZ Wellington while in the Ross Sea, did not immediately inform their crew to spare them the anxiety. We do not know what the Japanese whalers knew of the disaster or even when they knew it, but we can only imagine the anguish some may have suffered.
We have received suggestions from our supporters that Sea Shepherd should give aid to the victims of the earthquake in Japan. Given that we are a non-profit organization, we cannot legally do so. We are not a relief agency and we cannot legally participate in a relief operation with funds donated to marine conservation work. It would also be seen by some as opportunistic considering we were not involved in relief efforts in India after the tsunami, or in Haiti or New Zealand after their earthquakes. Furthermore, our ships would not be permitted in Japanese waters.
It seems that because of this tragedy that some people expect us to feel guilty for our efforts to oppose Japanese whaling, overfishing, and the slaughter of the dolphins...we do not. The earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear reactor disasters are completely unrelated to the fact that the Japanese are illegally whaling, overfishing, and brutally killing dolphins.
The nuclear reactor "accident" was hardly an accident, it was negligence. The United States has been warning Japan and other nations for decades about the dangers of situating nuclear reactor sites on the coastline, above or near fault lines. We were always told the same thing and that the possibility of an accident was zero. The Japanese government is solely responsible for the negligence in covering up concerns and ignoring safety flaws in their reactors. They also lied to their own people and continue to do so just as they have always lied about the whaling industry.
What is relevant to Sea Shepherd is the possible consequences of the recent tragedy in regards to marine conservation efforts. Many of the northern dolphin killing boats were destroyed or damaged, which may have an impact on their ability to continue killing Dall's Porpoises in the near future. In Taiji, the cruelty of the fishermen was dramatized by the tsunami when they refused to release the caged dolphins and allowed the wave to smash the bodies of the helpless dolphins onto the rocks. We expect that these die-hard sadistic dolphin killers will continue their horrific slaughter and we will continue to oppose them.
As for the whaling fleet, the outlook can be influenced two ways. When they retreated from the Southern Ocean, I was 75 percent certain they would not return next season because (1) they know we can stop them, (2) they are deeply in debt to the Japanese government, and (3) whaling is becoming more and more of an embarrassment to the government of Japan. This recent disaster will most likely be the final end to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, and make it a 100 percent certainty that they will not return. The economic hit that Japan has just taken will make further subsidies very unpopular.
Of course, there is another possibility that Japan may once again see whale meat as a cheap food for a nation in crisis just as the whaling fleet was organized in 1946 by American Army General Douglas MacArthur to provide cheap protein for post-war civilian populations. Such a move would be blatantly commercial and thus illegal. Japan may appeal to world sympathy for justification, but most likely, they won't get it.
We will be watching the Japanese whaling fleet closely. If it looks like they intend to return, then Sea Shepherd will also return.