February 4, 2009

Battle for the Whales

Emily (Quartermaster)

blog_090129_EmilyThere is a steady silence on the bridge. Crew fills the room but no words are uttered. We stand poised staring at the horizon with one goal in mind. We are ready to pounce. We are ready for battle. Few have embarked on such a battle - the battle for the whales, the battle for planet earth. Even fewer would embark on such a battle with the 'radicals' of Sea Shepherd that risk their lives for marine wildlife.

On January 29th, we have a crew meeting on the Sea Shepherd ship, the M/Y Steve Irwin, and the officers notify us that they believe we are close to the whaling fleet. The final battle in southern ocean whaling could be near.  After five years of anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic waters, three confrontations this year with whalers - I am hopeful we can end whaling finally. The Sea Shepherd's goal has been to stop the 'mother ship' of the Japanese whaling fleet which would disable the entire fleet from operating. We now believe we are closing in on our target 'death ship.'

But as we near to the possible end of this 'whale war,' news comes in that the war in the southern ocean could end through other means than the activist fight: through political maneuvering that would have the whaling fleet winning this battle rather than the whales, who are so close to victory. Information leaks that there has been secret meetings by six members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), including the United States, Australia and Japan. The meetings that are attempting to strike a deal with Japan to heal its fractioned international body.

If the present talks turn from a thing of an activist's nightmare fiction to non-fiction, then there would be a deal strike where Japan would be the lone benefited party.  Japan would be allowed to commercially kill whales both coastally in Japan and in the North Pacific. Presently, Japan is attempting to catch 935 Minke whales and 50 Fin whales in the southern oceans. This new deal would allow the Japanese whaling fleet to catch at a higher level than their present quota. All of this in exchange for Japan phasing out their hunt in the Antarctic waters over the next five years by twenty percent less each year.

This deal is strange because the fleet has already been failing to reach their Antarctic quota over the last two years. They have only been reaching 50 - 60% of their quota, giving Japan more whales than is already protested about internationally.  But the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling, established in 1986, has not been lifted. Allowing commercial hunting by Japan in this new deal then makes the 1986 ban arbitrary. This deal also then recognizes that the so called 'research' hunt that Japan claims its hunt to be over the last eight years as a commercial one, with no repercussions.

Which begs the questions: why is environmental law established if it can just be turned upside down on its head? How is it that there is no enforcement or repercussion towards those that shoot whales illegally? Why is it that instead the real 'eco-terrorists' (the whalers) are given gifts for their efforts, such as this new deal?

The southern ocean battle for the whales may end soon. Not in the way the Sea Shepherd activists had readied themselves for, but in a way that is the best case scenario for the whalers. Will this war ever end? It seemed so but now probably not if this deal is chosen. Sea Shepherd will continue their fight for the whales as they have for 30 years.

But when we've come so close to winning this war for the whales, it's hard to swallow for me that things have only come full circle instead of at an end. My parents, co-founders of Greenpeace, began the fight for the whales in the North Pacific targeting Russian and Japanese whalers. The war was believed to be won in 1986 with the IWC ban. It began again under the disguise of 'research' whaling with Japan. We too, the 21st century activists, believed we were close to finishing this war with the Antarctic whale battles coming to an end. But instead of standing here now on the bridge of the Sea Shepherd ship nearing to the final battle for the whales - it could just be the beginning of another chapter in this never ending battle for the planet.


The whales are counting on us for protection . . .
We are counting on you to keep us fighting for them.



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