Japanese Whalers 1, Sea Shepherd 0
Captain Paul Watson and his band of merry whale-hunters from Sea Shepherd took a big hit last week when their $2 million “attack” boat the Andy Gil was run over by a five-hundred-ton Japanese whaling ship. Video of the incident shows the Batmobile-like trimaran – made of carbon fiber and Kevlar, designed to pierce the rough seas of the Southern Ocean – baiting the bigger ship, being cascaded by fire hoses and then being landed on.
Its bow severely damaged, though none of its six-person crew seriously injured, the Shepherd’s main ship, the Bob Barker (the boats are named for their prime funders, in this case Gil – a Hollywood set designer – and Barker – longtime host of “The Price is Right”) attempted to tow it to a French science base on the Antarctic continent, but it sank along the way. Sea Shepherd assures that the seventy-foot boat had been drained of fuel and oil before it sank. The accident occurred about two hundred miles off the coast of Antarctica.
Sea Shepherd is on the Ross Sea harassing Japanese whalers for the fourth consecutive season; on board is a film crew from the Animal Planet show “Whale Wars” for which the accident should provide plenty of promo material for next season. Has the accident dissuaded the Japanese from continuing their questionable whale hunting? Not at all. In fact, they are suing Sea Shepherd for “piracy.”
Before the season began down south I talked with Paul about what he expected this year:
Has your current campaign in the Southern Ocean been successful?
Captain Paul Watson: I believe it has been successful. Our strategy is an economic one. I don’t believe the Japanese whalers will back off on moral, ethical or scientific grounds but they will quit if they lose the one thing that is of most value to them – their profits. Our objective is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet – economically, to bankrupt them and we are doing that.
We have slashed their kill quotas in half over the last three years and negated their profits. They are tens of millions of dollars in debt on their repayment schedule for Japanese government subsidies. The newly elected Japanese government has pledged to cut their subsidies.
I am actually confident that we can shut them down this year. They are on the ropes financially.
JB: How do you measure success? Fewer whales taken by Japanese? Other signs??
CPW: Of their quota of 935 Minke whales last year they fell short by 304. Of their quota of 50 Fin whales, they took only one. The year before they only took half their quota and in the last three years did not kill enough whales to break even so have been operating at a loss. We have also exposed their illegal whaling activities to the world and initiated a controversy and a discussion on whaling in the Japanese media.
JB: How do the Japanese continue to get away with the whale hunt when so many things say they shouldn’t, i.e. the Antarctica Treaty forbidding commerce below sixty degrees south latitude and the International Whaling Commission’s ban on all whaling?
CPW: There is a lack of economic and political motivation on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. The Japanese whalers are targeting endangered and protected whales inside the boundaries of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty that prohibits commercial activity south of sixty degrees and they are in contempt of the Australian Federal Court for continuing to kill whales in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone. There is no difference between Japanese whale poachers in Antarctica and elephant poachers in East Africa except that the Africans are black and impoverished.
JB: Do you know what the reaction among Japanese people – not scientists, not government – is towards the continued whale hunts?
CPW: I’m not actually concerned. I’m Canadian and the majority of Canadians are opposed to the commercial slaughter of seals but the Canadian government subsidizes it nonetheless. I believe it is a myth that once the people of a nation oppose something that things will change. First, most people are apathetic and could not care one way or another. Secondly, the pro-whalers have an economic motivation to lobby for continued whaling and thirdly in Japan it is considered inappropriate to oppose government or corporate policy. I’ve always felt that educating the Japanese public was a waste of time and smacks of cultural chauvinism. The fact is that whaling is illegal and we intervene for that reason and the key to ending it is the negation of profits.
Tags: Andy Gil, Animal Planet, Antarctic Continent, Antarctica, Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone, Bob Barker, Fin Whales, International Whaling Commission, Japanese Whaling, Minke Whales, Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd, Southern Ocean, Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, The Price is Right, Whale Wars