Tag Archives: Japanese whaling

As whaling resumes, Sea Shepherd faces legal issues

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Japanese whaling fleet is headed toward the Antarctic to kill whales, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is waiting with an increased armada to frustrate the whaling effort.

The level of intrigue has increased substantially this year, as Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd has become an international fugitive and Sea Shepherd finds itself under a U.S. court order to maintain a safe distance from the Japanese fleet.

Even the television show “Whale Wars” could be different this year, as Sea Shepherd has hired its own camera crew. That move has left network executives at Animal Planet somewhat uncertain about the upcoming sixth season of the show.

SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet.Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd
SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet. / Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that the Japanese “research whaling fleet” left the Shimonoseki Port in Western Japan last Friday. The Japan Times reported that the Japanese Fisheries Agency has authorized a take of up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this year.

Sea Shepherd crews departed for the Southern Ocean in mid-December with four vessels, including the latest addition — the 184-foot SSS Sam Simon, a former Japanese government vessel once used for meteorological research. The formidable ship, which has a hull strengthened for ice, was purchased for Sea Shepherd by the co-creator of “The Simpsons.” Read more in Sea Shepherd’s news release.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, was arrested in Frankfort, Germany, last May on charges relating to an incident in Central America in 2002. He was released on bail but failed to check in the following month, as required by conditions of his release. Siobhan Dowling reported on the incident for The Guardian.

In December, Paul told Associated Press reporter Manuel Valdes that he wanted to stay at sea. He contends that the Costa Rican government was pressured by Japan to seek his extradition.

“I want to stay in the ocean. I’m not going to be able to do that from some holding cell in Japan,” Watson, who now has no passport, was quoted as saying.

On Dec. 13, the U.S. State Department issued a joint statement with the governments of Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand calling for vessels in the Southern Ocean to observe international collision-avoidance rules:

“We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among protestors, many of whom are nationals of our countries, and whaling crews…

“We remain resolute in our opposition to commercial whaling, including so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission, and are disappointed about the recent departure of the Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean.”

In a written commentary, Watson actually seemed encouraged by the joint statement:

“We at Sea Shepherd have no problem with this. We haven’t sustained any serious injury nor have we caused any injury at sea in 33 years and certainly not in the last six voyages to the Southern Ocean.

“What the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes, however, is the fact that the statement issued by the four nations clearly condemns the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. This statement validates and encourages Sea Shepherd intervention during Operation No Compromise this year.”

But Sea Shepherd faced a new turn of events on Dec. 17, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Sea Shepherd — and Paul Watson specifically — from “physically attacking” the Japanese whaling fleet or from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel.”

The order (PDF 37 kb) prohibits Sea Shepherd from getting any closer than 500 yards to the Japanese ships. The injunction will remain in effect until a final ruling is issued by the U.S. District Court, which could come about the end of this year.

A well-written analysis of the hearing before the Court of Appeals was provided by June Williams of Courthouse News Service. An audio recording of the lively hearing is available from the Ninth Circuit’s website.

“It looks like the Japanese whaling fleet is ready to rumble,” Watson responded in a written commentary issued the same day the injunction was announced. He continued:

“It is a complex situation whereby a United States court is issuing an injunction against Dutch and Australian vessels carrying an international crew, operating out of Australia and New Zealand in international waters and the waters of the Australian Antarctic Economic Zone. In addition, the court has ignored the fact that the Japanese whalers are in contempt of a court order by the Australian Federal Court and the whaling takes place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“We will defend these whales as we have for the last eight years – non-violently and legally.”

So now the stage is set for another confrontation in the Southern Ocean. As the whaling season goes on, we’ll get the usual conflicting news releases from Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whalers. But how the events are portrayed on the television program “Whale Wars” may be influenced by a change in film crew.

whale wars

Before the ships’ departure, Sea Shepherd advertised for its own film crew to replace an independent crew previously used by Animal Planet. Officials with the network confirmed to me that they do not have a film crew on board at this time.

Blogger Michael Destries reported that Sea Shepherd officials hired their own crew to provide “greater flexibility for distribution purposes.”

How this will play out for the show “Whale Wars” is yet to be seen, but Sea Shepherd apparently intends to provide footage to the show’s producers.

Animal Planet spokesman Brian Eley told me that the network plans to air a sixth season of “Whale Wars,” but the two parties are still working out some critical details. Animal Planet owns the name “Whale Wars,” the show’s format and everything that goes with it.

The program is important to both organizations. “Whale Wars” helped transform Animal Planet from a children’s channel to an adult network, and the program has served the goals of Sea Shepherd almost beyond belief.

Brian said it is important to Animal Planet to maintain editorial control over “Whale Wars” with a documentary format and a “neutral point of view.”

“Every year, there are certain things that they (Sea Shepherd officials) disagree with over how we portray them,” he said. “But we have a good relationship with them, and I think people like the show the way it is.”

Brian did not seem to think it was too late to get an independent film crew on board, which would be the preference of Animal Planet executives.

He concurred that this was a “banner year for legality” facing Sea Shepherd, but Animal Planet is not caught up in that drama. The network has been careful to simply document the group’s activities, he said, not influence what the group does or does not do.

Whale Wars: A change in ‘weapons’ and tactics

UPDATE, Jan. 5, 2010
Sea Shepherd is reporting tonight that the futuristic Ady Gil was cut in half and may have been sunk by the Shonan Maru 2 in the frigid Southern Ocean. All six crew were rescued, according to a news release by the group.

The Institute of Cetacean Research, which speaks for the Japanese whaling fleet, made no mention of the collision in its latest news release (PDF 38 kb). But the group complained that the Ady Gil came within collision distance, tried to entangle the Shonan Maru 2 propeller, deployed a green laser and fired projectiles that contained butyric acid.

In other new developments, Sea Shepherd has acquired a new ship, the Bob Barker, named for the television personality who donated $5 million to the cause. The vessel, a former Norwegian harpoon ship, has joined the battle. Reuters is covering the story.

Split-screen video of the collision, one shot from Bob Barker, the other from the Shonan Maru 2.
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UPDATE, Jan. 1, 2010
The Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin has left Australia. Here’s the comment from Capt. Paul Watson in a news release:

“Thanks to the stormy weather, there was no possibility of a chartered flight locating the Steve Irwin and we were able to pass back into international waters without any sign of the Shonan Maru No. 2. They will be hard pressed to locate us now and without them on our tail, I am confident that we will be able to track down the whale poachers in the Australian Antarctic Territory.”

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The so-called “Whale Wars” continue in the Antarctic, involving Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is trying to thwart their activities.

Ady Gil
Ady Gil

The conflict has escalated this year, with new vessels, new “weapons” and new tactics. And the battle line for publicity seems to be growing more intense. I’ll recount some of the action in a moment, but first allow me to set the scene.

Sea Shepherd left Australia for Antarctic waters on Dec. 7 and soon learned that the enemy, the Japanese whalers, had shifted tactics, keeping a ship close to the Sea Shepherd and allowing ship-to-ship clashes to become more frequent.

Sea Shepherd brought a new ship into the battle this year. The high-speed trimaran, formerly the “Earthrace” and recently renamed the “Ady Gil” — can do 50 knots in good conditions.

Unlike Sea Shepherd’s mother ship, the Steve Irwin, the futuristic Ady Gil can keep up with, and even outrun, the Japanese harpoon ships.

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On board the Steve Irwin, a film crew is capturing the action again this year and preparing for the third season of “Whale Wars” — the highest-rated television series on the Animal Planet network.

In many ways, the primary battlefront in these whale wars is public perception about the actions and motives of the Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd crews. Sea Shepherd officials are quite up front about this, as Laurens de Groot, director for the Netherlands branch of the organization, stated in a news release:

“Letting the world see what happens to the whales in the Southern Ocean is the most powerful anti-whaling weapon at our disposal. The cameras are more powerful than cannons, and our ammunition is the naked truth about illegal whaling. We intend to keep the focus on Japanese crimes, and we intend to sink the Japanese whaling fleet — economically.”

So I guess it is no surprise that the Japanese whalers are responding by speaking out through an organization called the Institute of Cetacean Research. Last year, its director, Minoru Morimoto, issued a statement (PDF 20 kb)

“It is difficult to understand why a mainstream network would stoop so low as to produce a series that glamorizes and thereby gives support to ecoterrorism. Sea Shepherd’s criminal actions last year in the Antarctic were encouraged directly through the presence of the Animal Planet film team. Animal Planet is responsible for inciting this increased violence and aiding and abetting an international criminal organization.”

As the war of war of words escalates, let me recount some of this year’s actions:
Continue reading

Study uncovers troubling sources of Japanese whale meat

Is all whaling the same? I don’t think so, but I am beginning to see why anti-whaling groups wish to draw a line in the sand and stop all whale killing.

I admit I am fascinated by the program “Whale Wars” on the Animal Planet network. The weekly show gives us an inside look at how the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society confronts Japanese whalers in the Antarctic.

I also admit to believing that Japanese whalers are probably not taking enough minke whales to harm the regional population in the Antarctic. And surely the so-called “scientific research” is at least keeping track of the populations, the number of whales killed and their genetic makeup.

But new research coming out of Oregon State University has profoundly shifted my attitude about Japanese whaling and the dire need for increased international attention.

DNA analysis of whale meat sold to the public has revealed that perhaps as many whales are killed in coastal areas near Japan and South Korea — where whaling is outlawed under international agreement — as are taken in the Antarctic.

How can this be?

The dead minke whales from coastal waters, apparently not always counted, are attributed to incidental “bycatch” in net fisheries, according to Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU.

Japan and South Korea are the only countries that allow this kind of bycatch to be sold, he says.

Baker and his colleague, Vimoksalehi Lukoscheck of the University of California-Irvine, presented their findings at the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It was there that Japan was seeking approval to allow whaling off its coast.

Baker says the Japanese proposal demands careful scrutiny, given his findings and the need to identify and sustain distinct stocks of minke whales.

.“The sale of bycatch alone supports a lucrative trade in whale meat at markets in some Korean coastal cities, where the wholesale price of an adult minke whale can reach as high as $100,000,” Baker said in an OSU news release. “Given these financial incentives, you have to wonder how many of these whales are, in fact, killed intentionally.”

Baker said the bycatch of whales provides a cover for illegal whaling, which is difficult to detect. Last year, Korean police began to look into organized illegal whaling in the port town of Ulsan, where they seized 50 tons minke whale meat.

Baker’s genetic studies have identified other whale meat on the market as well — including some from humpback whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales and the critically endangered western Pacific gray whales, which may be on the verge of extinction.

I believe hunting has its place in wildlife management, but the Asian marketing in dead whales appears to be out of control and troubling on many levels.

Value of keeping whales alive pushed at IWC meeting

Anti-whaling groups are turning to economics as a key reason why all countries should discontinue commercial whaling.

A report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare concludes that the whale-watching industry has more than doubled over the past decade. In 2008, more than 13 million people in 119 countries and territories participated in whale watching, generating a total $2.1 billion in direct expenditures, the report says.

The report, by Economists at Large & Associates of Melbourne, Australia, was released at this week’s International Whaling Commission’s Meeting in Madeira, Portugal.

From the report:

Across the globe, the whale watching industry has grown at an average rate of 3.7% per year, comparing well against global tourism growth of 4.2% per year over the same period.

But the growth rate of whale watching at a global level tells only part of the story. At a regional level, average annual growth has occurred well above growth in tourism rates in five of the seven regions in this report: Asia (17% per year), Central America and the Caribbean (13% per year), South America (10% per year), Oceania and the Pacific Islands (10% per year) and Europe (7%), evidence of strongly emerging industries…

The picture that emerges is of an industry that provides a new model for use of natural resources — an industry that relies on whales in a non‐extractive way. That, when well managed, can be truly sustainable and provide a sharp contrast to the days when whales were seen solely as a resource to be hunted and consumed.

It should be noted, however, that whaling watching itself is not without its impacts. The IWC has focused considerable attention on this issue as well. See this year’s report from the Scientific Subcommittee on Whale Watching (PDF 220 kb).

Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund International concludes that whaling activities in Japan and Norway are not profitable by themselves and probably would not exist without subsidies. The June 18 issue of Science News reviews that study.

Iceland and Japan argue that whaling is an important cultural tradition and should be maintained even as the whale-watching industry grows.

“Allegations that whaling affects whale watching have proven not to be true,” said Tomas Heidar, Iceland’s commissioner to the IWC, in a report by Richard Black of the BBC. “On the contrary, whale watching has been growing steadily in the last few years after our resumption of commercial whaling [in 2006].”

Whale Wars begins filming next season amid controversy

Filming of the second season of “Whale Wars” is under way, and today Paul Watson, leader of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, claimed to have the Japanese whaling fleet on the run.

I’d like to ask a question of all you readers of Water Ways. Would you like me to provide occasional updates on Sea Shepherd’s controversial tactics, or do believe it is wrong to give this organization the extensive publicity it is already receiving?

I’m open to arguments on both sides.

Meanwhile, let me tell you what has been happening with Sea Shepherd and its television series “Whale Wars,” which completed its first season on Animal Planet this week and is going into reruns.

A news release issued today quotes Watson:

“It does not get more real than this. While people are sitting in their living rooms watching our campaign against the whalers that took place last season, we are at the same time in the icy hostile seas of Antarctica engaged with the whalers this season. There is an Animal Planet crew on board and the cameras are rolling for season two of Whale Wars.”

Yesterday, Watson reported that Sea Shepherd’s boat, the Steve Irwin, caught up with the harpoon ship Yushin Maru #2. The small Delta boat was launched with the idea of pelting the ship with stinky butter bombs, but it had to be called back because of high winds and rough sea conditions.

Watch the video by Sea Shepherd.

The Yushin Marin #2 was a ship that members of Sea Shepherd boarded last year, one of the dramatic moments in Season One of “Whale Wars.” Because of that controversial action and other life-risking incidents, the series quickly picked up an audience and was a big winner for Animal Planet, according to Variety magazine, which reports on show business.

This year the Japanese ship reportedly has installed a net over its side to prevent any further boardings.

Meanwhile, producers of the program have invited Japanese officials to participate in the second season, perhaps to offer a more balanced view of events.

As you may have heard, actress Daryl Hannah has joined the crew for this year’s campaign in the Antarctic. Hannah, best known for her mermaid role in the movie “Splash,” is a longtime supporter of environmental causes. She has been forcibly removed from more than one protest demonstration, and she runs a personal Web site that covers a lot of environmental issues. I wonder what her presence will add to the show.

It seems Sea Shepherd is getting wrapped up in show business as well as continuing controversy and criticism — including Watson’s claim of being shot against denials by the Japanese. Watson apparently believes all the publicity will help stop the whaling, and now he’s getting more attention than anytime in the last 30 years.

I don’t know where things will go from here, but I can’t help but watch.