When Japan's Fisheries Agency announced that their whaling fleet would be again heading south towards Antarctica to hunt whales, it once again brought a chorus of complaints from several non-whaling nations and vows from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to take them head on, at sea, as they have done for many years. At one point, it seemed that the whaling fleet might not go out, having been thwarted in their attempts last season by Sea Shepherd. In fact, all seemed quiet enough for a while that Sea Shepherd diverted their attention to the illegal tuna fishing taking place in the Mediterranean. But with the Japanese announcement back in the fall, Sea Shepherd was able to put their ships in pursuit and, having recently spotted the lead factory vessel by aerial drone, are now preparing to engage the fleet using controversial "eco-terrorist" techniques that are praised by some and questioned by others.
According to the Sea Shepherd website, "The Sea Shepherd ship, Steve Irwin, deployed a drone to successfully locate and photograph the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru on December 24th. Once the pursuit began, three Japanese harpoon/security ships moved in on the Steve Irwin to shield the Nisshin Maru to allow it to escape. This time however the Japanese tactic of tailing the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker will not work because the drones, one on the Steve Irwin and the other on the Bob Barker, can track and follow the Nisshin Maru and can relay the positions back to the Sea Shepherd ships."
In previous posts I have written of my reservations regarding the eco-terrorist techniques employed by Sea Shepherd, or any conservation group for that matter, as it typically does not engender the support of those governments or international agencies necessary to bring about the regulations or diplomatic pressure required for real change. Australia is actively seeking legal remedies through its actions in the International Court of Justice, but it can be a slow process. In opposition to Sea Shepherd, the Japanese government-sponsored Institute for Cetacean Research has filed a lawsuit against the Sea Shepherd Society in U.S. federal court to seek an injunction against Sea Shepherd - one which, I am sure, Sea Shepherd will vigorously defend against while at the same time ignoring it at sea.
It's not difficult to understand the frustration of whaling supporters with Japan's continual reliance on a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) regulations that allows for whaling to continue if it is for "legitimate scientific research." Japan has been able to work the loophole to where it is big enough to run a blue whale through it.
Japan's The Mainichi Daily News reported, "Japan's Fisheries Agency said the Japanese whaling fleet -- three whaling vessels escorted by a Fisheries Agency guard ship -- plans to kill some 900 minke whales and fin whales this season for what the Japanese government describes as scientific research purposes."
The idea that Japanese researchers require 900 whales to study for this year and that none of these whales will be processed for commercial purposes, as required by the IWC, is absolutely ludicrous. Fresh whale meat has been found in Japanese markets or other food outlets and, while this is evidence of blatant IWC violations, it also poses a health risk as these whale products can contain high levels of pollutants similar to what has been found in tuna and dolphin meat, also sold in Japan.
While I may not condone the techniques employed by Sea Shepherd, I understand their motivation but what raises my ire is the level of inaction on the international front, save for Australia. Japan has an interesting, almost schizophrenic, cultural mindset - on the one hand, an industrious international trading partner whose products and innovation command respect worldwide while, on the other hand, a historically protective, isolated culture that resists any suggestion of change from the outside, regardless of insurmountable evidence that their practices, like whaling, are environmentally destructive if not, at the least, antiquated.
So, once again, two ecological foes are pitted against each other. More sound bites, more footage for reality television, more threats and counter-threats. But until more nations band together with Australia to play diplomatic hardball, the game will continue and the whales, whether in the Southern Ocean or Japan's local waters, will be at risk.
Source: The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Source: The Mainichi Daily News
Source: BBC News - Asia-Pacific