Japan’s whaling ships have returned home from the Southern Ocean and are reporting the smallest take in years. Many, including the fleet’s leader, blame Sea Shepherd’s continual harassment for the deficit … which the Washington-state-based environmental group is happy to take credit for.
“We hit them long and hard this year and all our efforts and risks have paid off,” said Captain Paul Watson. “There are now 528 whales swimming freely in the Southern Ocean that would now be dead if not for the fact that we intervened. It is a happy day for my crew and I and conservationists worldwide, a happy day indeed.”
The take of both 507 was about half of last year’s hunt (935), the lowest numbers since the 2006-2007 season. The fleet’s leaders were said to be “furious” with Watson and his merry band, suggesting they would do anything – including leaving oil and boat parts behind in the Southern Ocean (a result of a collision between one of the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd’s high-end chase boat, the Ady Gil.
Coincidentally a decline in demand in Japan for whale meat has left the country with a nearly 5,000 ton surplus, which will be increased by the 1,800 tons brought home this season.
At the start of the season I talked with Watson about his hopes for the campaign.
Jon Bowermaster: 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.