Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hana Blog 7. English, 4th April 2012

8th February 2012

Broken Promises

Today I read the ‘Blue, Fin and Sei Whales Recovery Plan 2005-2010’ which was compiled by the Australia Department of the Environment and Heritage.

This plan lays out a series of recovery and protection guidelines for the same fin whales the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) sets kill quotas for every year. In recent times, the ICR has reported slaughtering 2 endangered fin whales under their illegal Antarctic whaling program. The cowardice and leniency of the Australian government in response to this atrocity is absolutely deplorable. They have not only let the ICR kill these magnificent endangered fin whales against the guidelines laid out in their own recovery plan, they have also allowed the Japanese whaling fleet to repeatedly trespass into the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without penalty. History has shown that if an illegal fishing, or refugee vessel, is found in these waters, a government ship will immediately be dispatched to seize that vessel and arrest the people onboard. Why should poor, desperate human beings fleeing famine and war be persecuted while whale poachers from rich and powerful nation are allowed to freely roam Australian waters? I’m now calling on the Australian government (once again) to drop their double standards and send a coastguard ship to immediately intervene against the unlawful activities of the whaling fleet

13th Feb 2012 (Mon)

Bruised but Not Broken

The ocean struck us with such ferocity today that the Bob Barker felt more like a rollercoaster than a conservation ship. The force from one particularly large wave picked me up and sent me flying across the mess. Luckily, my hand met with a solid anchor point just in time. I came to a jolting stop, my face just 2cm away from hitting a shelf. Breathing a sigh of relief, I considered how close I had just come to breaking my nose and teeth –a scary thought given how far we are from the nearest hospital. I don’t think I would ever be able to forgive myself if our mission to save the Southern Ocean whales was interrupted because of a broken bone.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get away injury free. I twisted my back in the process and my left hand (which cushioned much of the blow from the shelf) has become bruised and swollen. These small injuries are becoming a common occurrence but, overall, I’m just thankful I didn’t break any bones. I can still move my fingers and I’m still around to help save whales. As well as being a translator and writing these blogs on the Bob Barker, I also have daily chores to perform. The chores are divided into 6 different tasks which the deckhands and myself rotate through in groups of two. If I injure my hands not only would it be difficult to write my blogs, I feel I would be letting down my chores buddy.

23rd Feb 2012 (Thu)

With Open Hearts and Open Minds

On the 16th of February, the Bob Barker docked in Wellington, New Zealand. Our objective was to replenish our fuel and food stocks as quickly as possible then return to the Southern Ocean to continue our intervention against the Japanese whaling fleet.

Despite Wellington earning the title as the 2nd windiest city on the face of the planet, the crew enjoyed many warm, windless days while we were in port. There was much work to do but there were also brief moment when we were fortunate enough to be able to bask in the glorious sun and get reacquainted with the grass, the tree and the vibrant hues of green that blanketed the hillsides. After so long at sea, there were so many things to be thankful for. Most of all, I was happy to have solid ground under my feet and grateful for the fresh fruit and vegetables that poured onto our ship thanks to the incredibly generosity of our supporters.

Having the ship moored at Wellington’s main dock enabled people from near and far to drop by and chat to the crew about our mission. I’m glad to say, there never seemed to be a shortage of interest and warm wishes. We were especially honored to have New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people welcome us to their beautiful city and express their support for what we do. As a mark of respect to them, we proudly flew their flag from our forward mast.

Sea Shepherd’s efforts to protect the whales are important to many indigenous people from both an environmental and cultural perspective. Maori people have an exceptionally strong connection with the whales that migrate along New Zealand’s coastal waters. They see these animals as sacred and there are even stories telling of how the Maori traveled to this country by riding on the backs of these graceful giants. These stories are so well loved that they became the inspiration behind a stunning and highly successful New Zealand film called Whale Rider.

In light of the cultural importance that the whales hold to the Maori, I find it extremely sad that the Japanese whalers would try to pass their annual killing spree in Antarctica off as ‘tradition’.

I consider my role in Sea Shepherd to be very important. Not only am I helping to protect our world’s oceans, I am also proud to be breaking down many racial barriers and mistruths that currently surrounded the issue of whaling. Unfortunately, many people still come up to the ship with the impression that most Japanese people support the whale slaughter and that Japanese people have a lack of empathy for animals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the outrageous propaganda being spread by the ICR, there is virtually no support for the whaling industry in Japan and next to no demand for the whale meat that ends up in big refrigerated warehouses. The truth is, the whaling industry only exists to satisfy a handful of rich and powerful business people who would rather see beautiful marine mammals and the Japanese people suffer than risk having their immoral and overpaid job positions become redundant. This type of greed and bureaucracy is what is currently destroying our planet but it isn’t isolated to Japan. Sadly, it happens in every city, in every country around the globe.

Sea Shepherd’s actions have proven invaluable when it comes to saving the lives of whales in the Southern Ocean but ultimately it is the Japanese people who hold the power to stop the slaughter. It is us who can sway our government and it is us who can derail the whaling industry once and for good.

With this in mind, it is reasonable to say that many of Sea Shepherd’s greatest allies reside in Japan. They are the men, women and children I grew up with, they are my friends, my family, my old classmates and neighbors. If we are to ensure the whaling industry becomes nothing more than a bad memory we MUST all work together, we must be willing to embrace a greater level of cultural understanding, we must open our hearts and minds and we must do it NOW. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We cannot permit there to be a 2012-2013 whaling season.

Sad Goodbyes

Sadly, during the short time we spent in Wellington, we were forced to say goodbye to several of our crewmembers who had to leave us in order to pursue other important obligations back in their home countries.

I had many great Japanese conversations with a Canadian crewmember who lived and worked in the Japanese city of Miyazaki for 3 years. He was always happy and such fun to be around. I’ll also miss the nights I spent playing the card games ‘revolution’ and ‘speed’ with our French chief. I’ll miss that almost as much as his delicious vegan cooking. One Canadian woman’s strength and love of animals filled me with inspiration. She was one of the Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians who was staying in Otsuchi, Japan when the earthquake and tsunami struck. Her recount of the horrors and generosity of others she experienced that day will remain in my memory for a long time.

Alex Cornelissen has spent many years behind the helm as a Sea Shepherd captain. Unfortunately he had to leave for the Galapagos where, as director for the local Sea Shepherd chapter, he is currently working in partnership with the Ecuadorian government on a very important project to stop the illegal poaching of sharks, sea cucumbers and other marine wildlife. Despite being in such a challenging role, Alex always has a smile on his face. His ceaseless positivity combined with his commitment to treat everyone fairly has made crewing with him an extreme pleasure.

Now that Alex has gone, first mate, Peter Hammerstedt, has stepped up to the role of captain. Peter has spent the last 7 years defending the oceans as Paul Watson’s right-hand man. At the age of 14 Peter adopted a vegetarian lifestyle; 5 years later he was inspired to become a full-fledged vegan. As captain, Peter is every bit as fair and determined as Alex. He has such a lively, friendly personality and he’s a great spokesperson for Sea Shepherd and the oceans. His passion for protecting our priceless marine ecosystems inspires me a lot.

Although, I only spent a short time with these people, I have come to see each and every one of them as a close friend. I was very sad to see them off but I’m hoping, in time, our love for the ocean will bring us back together again.

Fortunately, we were able to gain some new hands for the second leg of campaign and it now feels like a fresh, revitalizing energy has entered the ship.

On 22nd of February we said our final goodbyes to Wellington and set sail for the icy waters of Antarctica once more.

Nothing to Hide

Since 2007 the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet (AP) film crew have been documenting Sea Shepherd’s Antarctic anti-whaling efforts for their hit TV show, ‘Whale Wars’. This year will be their 5th season onboard with Neptune’s Navy.

For those who don’t know, Whale Wars is aimed at presenting the high sea confrontations between whalers and whale defenders to the world in an engaging, informative and neutral light. Therefore, for the last 5 years AP has sort permission from both Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling industry to film on their ships. Where Sea Shepherd has openly welcomed Animal Planet’s film crews onboard to document all our great (and not so great) moments, the ICR has repeatedly refused their requests.

Why would the whaling industry refuse to have a neutral film crew onboard their vessels? I think the reason is pretty obvious. If the ICR truly had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of (like Sea Shepherd) there would be no reason why they shouldn’t jump at any chance that could help them legitimize their annual slaughter. But as we’re all too aware, the ICR has more than one skeleton in their closet.

AP footage from a whaler’s perspective would expose the Japanese ‘research’ whaling program for exactly what it is – a barbaric, illegal mass killing of marine mammals and a complete sham.

You can imagine what you might see should the ICR ever granted Animal Planet access to film:

A grenade-tipped harpoon tears open the back of a pregnant whale* rupturing her vital organs and turning the ocean a grizzly red. Despite the massive trauma she has sustained, she lives on. A shot gun is brought onto the deck and emptied into the back of her head. After a gut-wrenching half hour of agnoising cries and thrashing (edited down for television), she finally succumbs to her wounds. Her lifeless body is transferred to the factory ship where men with flensing knives slice into her stomach exposing her unborn calf. The calf is cut from the mother’s womb and laid by her side. Both mother and calf are then cut into unrecognizable pieces and boxed for delivery to refrigerated warehouses.

4th April 2012

The ICR have published that the Japanese whalers killed a total of 266 minke whales and 1 endangered fin whale during their 2011-2012 season. 168 of the whales caught where females. Of these, 107 were adults and 92.5% were reported as pregnant.

To me this sounds like the work of psychopaths. I fail to see the difference between the torture and murder of a pregnant whale and the torture and murder of a pregnant human being. In both cases the victims experience the same fear and pain. If injured or wounded, they will both cry out in agony and they will both struggle desperately for survival of themselves and their baby. We should not do anything to animals that we, as moral individuals, would not do to our own kind. Maybe, long ago, people could have been forgiven for believing that feelings of love, pain, fear, struggle, desperation and depression were unique to humans but those times have passed. We know many animals are highly intelligent and social beings, we know many form loving relationships with their mothers, fathers, young and other members within their community. Many play, share and look after each other, just like we humans do.

A many of Sea Shepherd members (even those who have come onboard as staunch meat and dairy lovers) have made the choice to become committed vegans. There are many reasons for this but one of the most admirable reasons in my eyes is to end the needless pain, suffering and struggle of other sentient beings.

This would be a good opportunity for AP to film the ‘samples’ supposedly being collected for scientific research. Afterwards, in-depth interviews could be held with the whaling captains and crew. I’m sure viewers would love to know how they feel about breaking numerous international laws, using tsunami relief funding to sustain their operations and brutally killing whales in a sanctuary designed specifically for their protection.

If my assessment is wrong, I would like the ICR to prove it by granting AP unrestricted access to film on their whaling vessels from now on.

Whale Wars is not permitted to be aired on Japanese television but it should be. The Japanese people have a right to know where their taxpayer money is going and they have a right to know about the atrocities that take place in the Southern Ocean each year.

25th Feb 2012 (Sat)

Court Out

The court case against Cove Guardian, Erwin Vermeulen of Holland, took place 3 days ago at a Wakayama court house. Despite his innocence, he was detained for 69 days without charge. Thankfully the judge handling Erwin’s trial recognised the blatant inconsistencies in the accuser’s story and Erwin is now a free man. More news on the trial can be found on the Cove Guardians section of the Sea Shepherd website.

Justice for Whales

Last December the ICR launched a court case against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Captain Paul Watson in the Washington State Court. Their goal was to prevent Sea Shepherd from intervening against the Japanese whaling operations by blocking Sea Shepherd ships from approaching within a 800m radius of any vessel tied to the Japanese whaling fleet.

Despite Sea Shepherd championing non-violent direct action and despite the fact that, in our 34 years of operations, not a single whaler has ever been injured during a Sea Shepherd action, for some reason the ICR always feels the need to label Sea Shepherd as ‘violent’ and ‘extreme’. Not surprisingly, this is the argument they put forth in court.

Maybe it’s just me but I believe killing endangered whales with a grenade-tipped harpoon in a whale sanctuary is pretty ‘violent’ and ‘extreme’. I have the same view when it comes to targeting a helicopter with a disorientating military-grade long range acoustic device (LRAD), dropping cast iron grappling hooks on small boat personnel and throwing flash bang grenades and bamboo poles directly at Sea Shepherd crewmembers. They are deliberately targeting human lives. What else would you label this behavior than ‘violent’ and ‘extreme’?

In light of these shocking actions, the ICR had the nerve to suggest that the whaling issue shouldn’t be solved with ‘violence’ but instead by talking. I can assure you, everyone involved in Sea Shepherd would love nothing more than to solve this issue with talking but if the past has shown anything, it’s that the Japanese whaling industry has developed a bad habit of sabotaging, or simply walking away from talks when they don’t get their way.

A prime example of this comes in the form of International Whaling Commission (IWC) vote buying scandal.

To change any IWC regulation, a 3/4 majority vote on the proposal being put forth must be obtained from the Commission’s member countries. As Japan has little support among the IWC member countries they are severely limited in the changes they can make but to get around this, they have resorted to paying small and developing countries to join the IWC and blindly support every proposal they put forth.

The Japanese government has been repeatedly caught out holding secret get-togethers with representatives of potential and existing supporter nations each year just before the annual IWC meetings take place. In the past they have funded the representatives’ full travel and accommodation costs and most sicken of all, have even hired them prostitutes at the expense of the Japanese taxpayers! This scandal has caused a media sensation around the globe but sadly the story has been subject to a cover up in Japan and few Japanese citizens have any knowledge of these events ever taking place.

During the 2011 IWC meeting held in Jersey, in the British Channel Islands, England, the issue of how to deal with Japan’s vote buying was discussed and a new direct deposit IWC fee payment method was introduced. It is hoped this new method of fee payment will help ensure talks remain fair and whale conservation efforts are not compromised by corrupted representatives

Unfortunately, even with vote buying out of the picture, Sea Shepherd must continue to take direct action against the whaling fleet, as all the years of talking have failed to provide adequate protection for the whales. If we don’t take action now and keep the issue of whaling in the headlines there are fears that commercial whaling will resume and whalers will eventually be allowed to LEGALLY slaughter every last cetacean on this planet. If we can’t save the whales how can we ever hope to protect the other vital marine creatures in our oceans?

During the first Seattle court hearing (held on the 16th of Feb) the appointed judge suggested that the Japanese government’s views were not deemed acceptable to the rest of the world and moved to deny a statement from the ICR’s provisional disposition. The court case continues.

3rd March 2012 (Sat)

The Poisoning of the Oceans

Today, I would like to take the time to write about a very serious health issue that has affected the lives of many Japanese people. That issue is the debilitating illness, known as Minimata Disease.

Minamata disease was first discovered in the Japanese city of Minamata in 1956 after people consuming seafood with high bioaccumulations of the dangerous chemical, methyl mercury, began getting sick. This form of mercury was eventually traced back to a chemical factory that had been dumping its waste into a nearby waterway. Despite finding the source of the crippling disease, the Japanese government failed to introduce measure that would stop the pollution from affecting more marine life and people. Since that time Minamata has become known as one of the four major diseases caused by man-made pollution in Japan.

Minimata disease mainly affects the central nervous system causing many terrible symptoms to appear. These symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. The most serious effects include insanity, paralysis, coma, and death. If a pregnant mother consumes contaminated seafood, the methyl mercury is likely to be transferred on to her unborn child with horrific consequences.

Minimata disease isn’t limited to the Minimata area. In 1964, the 2nd case of the disease broke out in Niigata prefecture and now there are reports of methyl mercury poisonings popping up around the globe - particularly in areas where there is a high level of seafood consumption. By February 2008, 2,265 Japanese people had been officially recognized as Minimata disease victims however; only 620 of them were still alive to receive compensation.

As whales, dolphins and sharks are positioned at the top of the marine food chain their bodies usually contain higher concentrations of mercury than any other fish or marine mammals in the ocean. Whale meat has been found to have mercury levels 16 times higher than the safe levels set by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

As more and more whale meat is stockpiled in refrigerated warehouse due to a lack of demand, the Japanese government is feeling more and more pressured to create a market for this product that no one wants to touch.*

Despite young people being the most susceptible to the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning, the government’s solution has been to thrust the meat on children as part of their school lunches. In 2008 they fed whale meat to junior school children in Yokohama city in Kanagawa prefecture. An in depth report of the situation can be found here:

As of September 2010, it was reported that 5,355 (or 18%) of schools had feed whale meat to their students:

In my mind, this can only be described as an extremely unsettling situation for the future generations of Japan.

Although I don’t have children, it deeply concerns me that this dangerous trend will continue if no one stands up against it. If you live in Japan and have children, please, I urge you for their sake, talk to other parents about this issue and make sure the schools in your community aren’t serving mercury-tainted dolphin and whale meat. You have the right to know the truth and your children have a right not to eat contaminated food that makes them sick. Every child should be able to grow up leading a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.

Overall, I feel angry and frustrated that the Japanese government would lie to us and spend our hard-earned taxpayer dollars on unnecessary whaling operations and dolphin slaughters that don’t serve the general population of Japan in any way, shape or form. I want everyone to know that whale, dolphin and shark meat poses a serious health hazard and anyone taking the flesh of these animals into their bodies in putting themselves at great risk.

*In 2011, more than 6,000 tons of unwanted whale meat sat in refrigerated warehouses across Japan.

This has been my most difficult blog to translate into English. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found some inspiration and enlightenment in my words. Thanks again to Michael Beasley for his assistance. His patients and understanding has helped me out so much J

Sea Shepherd – Pirates of Compassion (with Japanese subtitles)

Sea Shepherd- For the Oceans (with Japanese subtitles)