Antarctic again to be whaling battleground

Posted: 16 July 2011

The seas around Antarctica will be the scene of confrontations over whaling again this year. Japan will send its whaling fleet to the Antarctic again, a senior Japanese official has told BBC News, and the Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling vessels will be there to disrupt the hunt. 

At the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, which opened on 11 July in Jersey, Joji Morishita said Japan plans to send its whaling fleet back to the Southern Ocean to conduct "research" whaling. The IWC allows scientific research but not commercial whaling, which has been banned worldwide since 1986.

"We are now discussing how we can send our fleet back to the Antarctic Ocean," said Morishita, Japan's deputy commissioner to the IWC and a career official in the Fisheries Agency. Japan must overcome financial difficulties and new oil spill regulations in addition to dealing with whale defenders in fast ships determined to prevent whaling.

"If Japan returns to the Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd will return to the Southern Ocean," said Sea Shepherd founder and president Captain Paul Watson. "As soon as we get word that they are going to return, we will point our bows southward once again to intercept them."

Minke whale mother and calf
Minke whale mother and calf are hauled aboard a Japanese whaler in the Southern Ocean. Photo courtesy Australian Customs Service

The Japanese fleet left the Southern Ocean in February six weeks ahead of schedule without taking 90 percent of their self-appointed quota after repeated clashes with the three Sea Shepherd vessels.

At the IWC meeting, the Japanese delegation showed "safety at sea" footage of interaction with Sea Shepherd ships last season - images of conservationists hurling bottles of stinky butyric acid onto the decks, using rope in attempts to foul the whalers' propellers and blocking the shipways to prevent dead whales from being hoisted aboard. The Japanese claim to have been rammed by Sea Shepherd vessels, while the Sea Shepherd claims the Japanese rammed them.

The Japanese IWC delegation said repeatedly that the Sea Shepherd's "terrorist" violence must not be condoned but condemned and asked the countries under which the Sea Shepherd vessels are flagged - The Netherlands and Australia - to take action.

Watson says, "Japan should very well be concerned about safety at sea, considering that during the time their illegal fleets have operated in the Southern Ocean, they have suffered three fatalities, numerous injuries, an oil spill, and two catastrophic fires."

By contrast, said Watson, "The fact remains that Sea Shepherd did not injure a single whaler as evidenced by their own video content."

Sea Shepherd's objective is "to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically and bankrupt their illegal activities," said Watson.

Sea Shepherd, a U.S. nonprofit based in Friday Harbor, Washington, is the only nongovernmental organization officially banned from attending the IWC meeting, but more Sea Shepherd representatives are in Jersey for the meeting than all of the other NGOs combined.

Sea Shepherd supporters came at their own expense from France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, and even Japan. More than 60 supporters were present, including the 10-person crew onboard Sea Shepherd's ship the Brigitte Bardot, which arrived in the port of Saint Helier on July 9.

While not allowed inside the Hotel de France where the IWC is meeting, Sea Shepherd crew and supporters were joined by members of Surfers for Cetaceans and Women against Whaling in front of the hotel.

The IWC delegates were insulated from the whale defenders in the street until some 100 people pushed by security guards and took their voices to the door of the convention room.

The head of security for the IWC requested the anti-whaling crowd leave the hotel grounds. Watson replied that they would leave, but only if requested to do so by the Jersey police.

Sea Shepherd protest
Holding outdated currency, Sea Shepherd activists Georgie Dicks, Paul Watson and Howie Cooke protest outside the IWC meeting, July 11, 2011. Photo by Simon Ager courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

"Jersey does not have any trespass laws so the security guards had no legal authority to order us to leave the area," said Watson. "However, we are not here to cause trouble and we certainly have no argument with the Jersey police. We were able to bring our concerns to the doorstep of the IWC for at least an hour, so we?re quite satisfied that we have made the delegates aware of our presence."

Bundles of outdated currency from Russia, former Soviet bloc nations, Iraq, and Zimbabwe were tossed into the air to symbolize "the bribery that Japan has been practising for years to buy votes for their pro-whaling policy," said Watson. "This was also done to support the United Kingdom's proposal to investigate corruption within the IWC."

A resolution submitted by the United Kingdom jointly with 16 other European nations urges greater transparency in areas such as "relations between the Commission and its members, procedures for reaching, recording and announcing decisions, and procurement of scientific advice."

Whale conservationists have accused the three whaling nations, Japan, Norway and Iceland, of buying the votes of smaller member countries by paying their membership fees.

The global conservation group WWF is urging IWC member governments to take urgent steps to address the severe threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises from expanding shipping, offshore oil and gas, entanglement in fishing gear, and noise in the oceans.

Grey whale, Sakhalin
Critically endangered Western Pacific grey whale near Sakhalin Island oil development. Photo by Igor Gavrilov courtesy Greenpeace and WWF

The marine environment has never before been under such great pressure, and several whale, dolphin and porpoise species are on the brink of extinction, the group warned.

Fewer than 130 Western North Pacific gray whales remain, only about 30 breeding females, yet offshore oil and gas projects near their feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island in Russia's Far East are expanding.

Several governments and conservation groups warn that an oil platform is planned adjacent to the area where mother whales teach their calves to feed.

"The UK is deeply concerned that ongoing industrial activities around Sakhalin Island continue to provide a threat to the population," said UK Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries Richard Benyon.

WWF is urging the companies involved in Sakhalin - Exxon, Shell, Gazprom, BP and Rosneft - to postpone development until a commission of experts has assessed the impact on Western gray whales and made recommendations.

WWF is also demanding that the companies avoid any future activities inside the proposed new Sakhalin Marine Federal Wildlife Reserve.

Entanglement in fishing gear kills 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises each year. There are just 245 individuals remaining of the world's smallest cetacean, the vaquita, due to entanglement in gillnets which prevent the animals from coming to the surface to breathe. The vaquita is a small porpoise endemic to Mexico's Gulf of California.

"In the 21st century, whales in the world?s oceans are in crisis. Oil and gas operations, shipping, and irresponsible fishing are decimating several whale and dolphin species," said Wendy Elliott, who heads the WWF delegation to the IWC meeting.

"The IWC must become more effective in dealing with the vast number of threats to whales in our oceans and seas," said Elliott. "This will be a challenge, but is also an opportunity for the IWC to become a modern and effective body."

At least 35 percent of the meat from minke whales slaughtered by Icelandic whalers is eaten by tourists visiting the country, who often have no idea that their menu selection is propping up commercial whaling, warns the UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

WDCS is launching an awareness campaign aimed at tourists visiting Iceland to draw attention to "the inhumane way in which these magnificent and intelligent creatures are killed before they are served up."

"We are seeing increasing numbers of tourists walking off whale watching vessels and straight into restaurants that serve whale meat," the group said in a statement. More than 100 Icelandic restaurants and shops are currently selling minke whale meat as an exotic food - smoked, marinated or cut into steaks for grilling.

WDCS has issued a list of restaurants with whale on the menu and a guide to whale meat terms in Icelandic, so that tourists can avoid accidentally ordering the whale they watched only hours before.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.