If Japanese whalers had a sense of humor, their ships headed into the Southern Ocean next month would loudly blare Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”
Photo: Ho New/Reuters
Why? Because the country’s Fisheries Ministry—rather than back down after Sea Shepherd successfully harassed them into quitting this past whaling season—has announced it will more than double its budget to protect its ships from protesters.
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The most high-profile and effective of those protesters, Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has vowed to fight to the death.
Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano rationalized the increase in expenditure because the country “aims to restart commercial whaling in the future and the nation needs to continue research whaling to achieve that.” Last year, Japan’s whaling fleet sailed home early, fatigued by the Shepherd’s nonstop campaign; this year the Japanese government will spend in the neighborhood of $10 million to provide an escort boat to accompany the fleet—a first. Somewhat mysteriously, the government has also said it would use “other measures” to protect its fleet. “We intend to carry out the research after enhancing measures to assure that it is not obstructed,” Kano said.
Limited to less than 200 whales last year—off its stated goal of 1,000—the Fisheries Ministry says this year it has the same goal and intends to be successful.
Leaders from Japan’s neighbors, particularly New Zealand and Australia, condemned the decision to continue evading the 1986 international ban on whaling. Australia has filed an official complaint in the world court in Hague to try to get Japan’s “scientific” whaling stopped, but in a sadly typical example of bureaucratic malaise, a decision is not expected until sometime in 2013.
“Limited to less than 200 whales last year—off its stated goal of 1,000—the Fisheries Ministry says this year it has the same goal and intends to be successful.”
New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said Japan was “isolating itself from the international community” by deciding to resume whaling. Australians, led by Environment Minister Tony Burke, are leading the criticism since during the upcoming whaling season, the Japanese are expected to be doing their “science” in an area of the Southern Ocean declared an Australian whale sanctuary.
“There is no justification for continued whaling,” Burke told The Age. “They should not be sending their fleet to the Southern Ocean. We don’t accept that this is scientific. It should not go ahead.”
For its part, Sea Shepherd is planning on sending three ships to the Southern Ocean in November, with the intention of ending Japan’s whaling season early, one more time.
At its website, on the eve of its eighth season harassing Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, Paul Watson issued one of his strongest threats against the whalers yet: “They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening…”
“It now seems they are simply obsessed with killing whales not for need, and not for profit, but because they believe they have the right to do what they wish.”
In an bitter twist of fate, Japan’s tsunami may have accomplished something conservationists have been fervently attempting for years: Driving a final nail into the nation’s pro-active whaling communities.
The first outsiders have recently reached the small town of Ayukawahama, which was crushed by 30-foot waves. Four hundred of its 1,400 residents are missing, assumed dead. The peninsula town is described as having been reduced to “an expanse of splintered wood and twisted cars.”
The waves rushed 600 feet inland, wiping out 80 percent of the town’s 700 homes, along with the headquarters of the biggest business in town, Ayukawa Whaling, one of the country’s most prodigious hunters of big whales.
Ayukawa lives off whaling. It is one of just four Japan communities that are home to small fleets that twice a year hunt whales in waters close to Japan, differentiating them from the fleet that heads to the Southern Ocean each November.
“There is no Ayukawa without whaling,” said a 27-year-old whaler.
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)
As Sea Shepherd predicted, when two of its boats made port in Hobart, Tasmania, over the weekend – on the heels of a just-completed and successful campaign against Japanese whalers – Australian police greeted them.
Armed with search warrants both the “Bob Barker” and “Steve Irwin” were scoured by the police with Sea Shepherd boss Paul Watson observing. No charges were made, nothing confiscated. Yet the search went on, spurred by complaints by the Japanese government that the Shepherd’s activities in the Southern Ocean were “obstructing commerce and industry.”
Japan Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara had asked New Zealand and the Netherlands, as well as Australia, to condemn the anti-whalers, since the Shepherd’s ships are registered in those countries. It claims the Shepherd’s put the lives of Japanese crewmen at risk.
Australia’s Green party leader, Sen. Bob Brown, was at the docks to welcome the Sea Shepherd activists and told the press: “The good police (of Australia) are doing the work of Tokyo…I have written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs this morning calling for an end to this charade.”
Watson said this was the third year in a row his ships have been searched when they’ve first made port. “All I can say to the Japanese who every year say ‘you guys are eco-terrorists, you’re criminals’ is ‘look, arrest me or shut up.’ It’s just getting really irritating constantly being called an eco-terrorist without actually being arrested.”
While the Japanese did quit the whaling season early, it’s no guarantee they are giving up, despite that the Shepherds’ formally announced that this past season’s “Operation No Compromise” is finished.
They will most likely return to the Southern Ocean next year and in the meantime – since they took fewer than 100 whales this season, hardly the 900 they anticipated – it is possible they may turn to hunting whales closer to home, in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean.
For its part, Sea Shepherd says it will be back down south next season if necessary. “We will be prepared and we will be ready,” Watson said in a statement posted on his website. “Our objective is to defend the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We have done so since 2002, and we will continue to do so if there are any future threats to the sanctuary and the whales.”
In more Antarctic-related police news, Norwegian skipper Jarle Andhoy, whose ship the “Berserk” sank off the coast on February 20 with three crewmembers onboard while he and another man attempted a misguided and secretive effort to reach the South Pole by ATV, has been charged back home with negligence.
It’s official: The Japanese have halted its whaling season a month early, crediting — or blaming — harassment from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s rigorous anti-whaling campaign.
Calling its four-boat fleet home, Japan’s fisheries agency said it had killed 172 whales (170 minke and 2 fins) this season, a quarter of what it had hoped for when the Southern Ocean hunt began in December.
“To ensure the safety of crew members’ lives, of assets and of the research fleet, the government is compelled to end the research,” Japan’s farm and fisheries minister Michihiko Kano said at a Tokyo news conference. “It’s regrettable that such obstructions have taken place. We will have to find ways to prevent such harassment.”
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)
Despite the seemingly good news from the Southern Ocean – that Japanese whalers have stopped hunting – activists and governments alike are waiting on formal word that they have truly stopped for the season.
There is concern the “suspension” could be some kind of stalling tactic or publicity stunt.
From Australia, Environment Minister Tony Burke, admits to hearing conflicting reports. “At this point, we do not have any statement from the Japanese government to us confirming that this season of whaling is at an end.”
The Japanese Fisheries Agency is only saying that whaling operations have been “suspended” since February 10 “to ensure the safety of the crew.”
For the moment the Sea Shepherd’s “Bob Barker” is still trailing the Japanese processing ship, the “Nisshin Maru,” on a meandering route that has led both ships away from whaling grounds.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that this season the Japanese have taken very few whales, thanks largely to the constant harassment of the Shepherd’s. Traditionally the Fisheries Agency holds off until season’s end to announce exactly how many whales were taken in the name of science; this year’s goal was between 800 and 900. The best guess right now is that they’ve taken fewer than 100.
Sea Shepherd spokesman Peter Hammarstedt, aboard the “Bob Barker,” explained the success the group has had this season: “Every day we prevent them from whaling we’re costing them millions of dollars in lost profit. And we speak the only language that these poachers understand, the language of profit and loss.”
Hammarstedt also reported that the Japanese ship had made a U-turn just before entering the Drake Passage, slowed and headed back to the west.
“The turnabout could mean one of two things,” said Hammarstedt. “First, they may be on a great circle route back to Japan, or second, they may be returning to the whaling grounds in the Ross Sea where the three Japanese harpoon vessels may be waiting to continue their illegal slaughter.”
From the Shepherd’s mother ship, the “Steve Irwin,” Captain Paul Watson was his typical bold self in reaction to the suspension of hunting: “The Japanese Fisheries Agency had no choice but to suspend whaling operations. Sea Shepherd had already enforced a suspension of operations by blocking all whaling operations since February 9th and blocking 75% of all whaling operations for the month of January. We will not allow the Japanese whal
ers to kill another whale down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”
To celebrate its successes this season, Sea Shepherd’s website today announced a “10 percent off” sale on all its merchandise (beanies, hoodies, baby bibs, tank tops, tote bags and more) – a so-called “No Compromise Sale” – in gratitude to its loyal and growing list of supporters around the world.
The Sea Shepherd’s Southern Ocean season – dubbed “Operation No Compromise” — is more than half over and reports so far it may be having its best season of protest ever.
How to measure? Very few whales taken by the Japanese whaling fleet and no ships sunk on either side. Yet.
Of course there’s been plenty of verbal slugging since the season began in December, as well as the tossing of some literal bamboo spears, by the Japanese!
Lead-Shepherd Captain Paul Watson accused the Japanese of making a false “Mayday” distress call from the Southern Ocean last Friday, claiming it was “under attack” by the anti-whalers.
Watson admits he and his gang had deployed its typical weaponry: prop foulers (wire ropes intended to damage engines), and a fair number of stink and paint bombs – resulting in the return fire of those bamboo spears — but that they were hardly close to ramming the Japanese whaling ship.
“They said they were in distress and we were standing by,” Watson told the AP. “The ‘Gojira’ [the Shepherd’s new attack ship, named after Godzilla] is right beside them and they refuse to answer our calls.”
Truth is, according to Watson, it was the Japanese ship “Yushin Maru No. 3” which nearly cut the “Gojira” in half, coming just 10 feet from its hull.
Given the remoteness of the battleground, for now all we have is the he-said/she-said issuances of the two fighters. But all will be made clear later in the year, since for the fourth consecutive season a film crew from Animal Planet is on board documenting the campaign for “Whale Wars.”
It would appear that this year’s campaign strategy has paid off. Utilizing thee ships, a helicopter and 88 crewmembers the Shepherd’s have successfully chased the Japanese whaling fleet over 5,000 miles. Early in the season they isolated and cut off its refueling vessel – the “Sun Laurel” – even while being harassed by two of the Japanese’ three harpoon boats – which have focused on trailing the Shepherd’s rather than hunting whales.
Watson checked in from port in New Zealand, where he’d taken the Shepherd’s lead ship, the “Steve Irwin,” for fuel and supplies. He is optimistic about the season, suggesting it may be “our most successful yet.”
“They have taken very close to zero (whales),” he says, hoping this may be the last season the Shepherd’s presence will be required off Antarctica, hoping its non-stop harassment will finally encourage the Japanese to give up its “scientific” hunt.
Where whaling commission edicts and international protest have failed, a combination of the seaborne fights, new Japanese tax laws, falling meat sales and having been caught running a whale-meat black market, may succeed in stopping whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Success has apparently been felt on the fundraising front as well, since the Shepherd’s have recently raised a giant electronic billboard in Times Square depicting a breaching whale about to be harpooned. It is the media savvy non-profit’s first stab at outdoor advertising.