Tag Archives: Whaling in Japan

Japan allows commercial whaling, withdraws from international pact

Frustrated by international condemnation over its whaling activities, the Japanese government has decided to allow commercial whaling outright within its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

Japanese officials announced this week that the country would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, which oversees international agreements for managing whales — including a worldwide ban against killing nearly all whales.

As a result, the Japanese whaling fleet will no longer travel to the Antarctic to kill whales, which the government justified for years under an exemption for “scientific” whaling. That whaling program, which killed 333 minke whales last year, failed to meet the requirements of scientific studies, according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice and findings by a scientific panel for the International Whaling Commission. See Water Ways, March 31, 2014.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the move was a necessary consequence of the IWC’s failure to recognize its dual mandate of protecting whales and allowing an “orderly development of the whaling industry.” For 30 years, the Japanese government has been collecting information to show that whales can be sustainably harvested, Suga said in a statement, but it has become clear that the IWC is now focused only on conservation.

Most environmental groups condemned Japan’s pullout from the IWC.

“By leaving the IWC but continuing to kill whales in the North Pacific, Japan now becomes a pirate whaling nation, killing these ocean leviathans completely outside the bounds of international law,” said Kitty Block, president of Humane Society International and acting president of the Humane Society of the U.S.

“For decades Japan has aggressively pursued a well-funded whaling campaign to upend the global ban on commercial whaling,” she said in a news release. “It has consistently failed, but instead of accepting that most nations no longer want to hunt whales, it has now simply walked out.”

In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Environment Minister Melissa Price said the government was “extremely disappointed” with Japan’s action.

“Their decision to withdraw is regrettable, and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority,” they said in a joint statement. “Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. We will continue to work within the Commission to uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling.”

Concerns with Japan’s withdrawal include the possibility that Japan will no longer report the number of whales killed and the potential of other countries following suit and starting whale hunting without consultation with the IWC.

“We are very worried that it might set a precedent and that other countries might follow Japan’s lead and leave the commission … especially South Korea where there is an interest in consuming whale meat in South Korea,” Astrid Fuchs of Whale and Dolphin Conservation told BBC News and reported in The Guardian.

“The oversight that the IWC was having over Japan’s whaling will now be lost,” she added. “We won’t know how many whales they are catching, we won’t know how they will report it. It might spell doom for some populations. There is an endangered population of Minke whales off Japan, which is already under threat.”

Most groups acknowledged that ending whaling in the Antarctic would be a good thing, and Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd took a celebratory posture about the prospect.

“I’m not quite sure why so many whale conservationists are upset by today’s announcement by Japan that they will be leaving the IWC,” Paul said in a Facebook post Wednesday. “After 16 years of intervening against Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, I see this as a very positive development. It means that the whale war in the Southern Ocean is over and we and the whales have won. What we have fought for has been achieved — an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean.

“Japan leaving the IWC will allow the IWC to vote and pass the establishment of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary,” he added. “This means that the entire Southern Hemisphere will be free of whalers for the first time in history.”

Whaling remains illegal, Paul said, and Sea Shepherd will continue to oppose whaling with a variety of tactics. Now, it will be easier to build opposition, because Japan can no longer pretend that it is advancing scientific knowledge with its whaling operations. The only whaling nations left on Earth, he said, are Japan, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, and “they have been driven back to their own shores; the whalers of the world are in retreat.”

Sea Shepherd has not engaged the whaling fleet in “whale wars” — direct ship-to-ship confrontations — for the past two years, but the group claims to have driven up costs for the whalers, who have relied on government security boats and high-tech equipment to elude the anti-whaling activists. Those extra costs may have contributed to Japan’s decision to withdraw from the IWC. Also on the line was a discussion about whether the Japanese government should build a massive new ship for processing whale meat, a ship that won’t be needed in Japanese waters.

I’ve been reading about this situation in all kinds of publications, including English-language newspapers based in Japan. I would like to know if Japan intends to allow whalers to take the full self-imposed allotment of 333 minke whales during the current whaling season. The whaling fleet reportedly left for the Antarctic in early November and may be hunting for whales now. I have not yet learned whether the whaling fleet will come back early or take 333 whales before Japan pulls out of the IWC on July 1.

“With the Japanese whaling fleet hunting whales in our Southern Ocean, the Australian Government must demand they bring their fleet home immediately and take legal action if they don’t,” said Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. In a written statement, he called it a “bittersweet victory” to get whaling out of the Southern Ocean but with “unchecked” commercial whaling to take place in Japan’s waters.

The IWC called a halt to commercial whaling in 1982. Japan complied with the moratorium at first but then developed scientific criteria to promote whaling under a special exemption. Scientists associated with the IWC, as well as the International Court of Justice, found that the criteria failed to meet true scientific standards and should not be allowed.

In September, Japan tried to persuade the IWC to relax its voting rules to allow changes to international rules on a simple majority vote, rather than three-fourths. That would have allowed Japan to rally a lot of non-whaling countries to support a resumption of commercial whaling, but the proposal was rejected along with a direct plan to allow commercial whaling.

In October, Japan agreed to stop the hunting of endangered sei whales in the North Pacific until its research program could be revised to comply with CITES — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A standing committee of CITES found that Japanese “research” whaling on sei whales actually contributed to an illegal sale of endangered species, according to a news release and report on the findings (PDF 1.2 mb). Sei whales are killed outside of Japan’s home waters, so the market is considered international.

The Japanese government contended that the sales were not a violation of CITES’ conventions, because all the proceeds were put back into research. Still, those officials said a new plan will be submitted for approval.

The issue is scheduled for review at the committee’s next meeting in May to determine if Japan has carried through on its commitment to stop commercial trade in sei whale meat. Japan had been planning to allow a harvest quota of 134 sei whales per year.

As for whaling off the coast of Japan, an offshore operation will be based at Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture, while coastal operations will be based at Abashiri and Kushiro on the island of Hokkaido and four other seaports.

Although whale meat was an important staple for Japan following World War II, few Japanese people eat whale meat today. In some ways, however, whaling is still a matter of tradition for many Japanese people. Some have speculated that Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC is a face-saving way for the government to reduce its expenses for whale hunting while asserting its traditional right to take whales in its own waters.

A 2014 survey by the national Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that 60 percent of those questioned supported the “scientific” whaling program, yet only 10 percent eat whale meat “fairly frequently.” Another 4 percent said they eat whale meat “sometimes.” Nearly half (48 percent) said they have not eaten whale meat for “a long time,” while 37 percent said they never eat it. The survey was reported by the news portal Phys Org.

In a recent article, Asahi Shimbun reported that companies involved in the fishing industry are not eager to resume whaling.

“We have no plans to resume the whaling business,” a public relations official of Maruha Nichiro Corp. told the newspaper. The company, previously named Taiyo Gyogyo K.K., had been engaged in commercial whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. Retailers also expressed apprehension about selling more whale meat.

In 1962, about 233,000 tons of whale meat were consumed in Japan, according to the article. Today, annual consumption ranges between 3,000 tons and 5,000 tons.

BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes tackled the issue two years ago and found that many Japanese were smoothly transitioning to beef. His story and video report show him sampling a chunk of whale meat, which he finds chewy with a gamey flavor. For older folks in Japan, Rupert discovers that whale meat is simply a taste of nostalia.

Does new ‘mother ship’ portend increased whaling by Japan?

The Japanese government is considering the replacement of the “mother ship” in its fleet of whaling vessels, as part of a potential expansion of whaling in the Antarctic.

Nisshin Maru, Japan’s whaling factory ship
Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The newspaper Japan Times today received confirmation that the Japanese Fishing Agency has requested the equivalent of $910,000 to study the future of commercial whaling. If approved, the study would consider ideas for replacing the 30-year-old Nisshin Maru, best known as the factory ship used for processing whale meat. Japanese officials collect certain information about the whales and call it scientific research.

Anti-whaling activists, including Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, reacted harshly to the news, saying the study is a sign that the Japanese government not only intends to keep slaughtering whales but may be on the verge of expanding commercial operations.

“I will say, that if this replacement floating slaughter house — this Cetacean Death Star — is built and if it returns to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with an increased quota, it will be strongly, passionately and aggressively opposed,” Watson wrote in a Facebook post. “The Whale Wars is not over.”

After problems with finding and pursuing the Japanese whalers last year, Sea Shepherd did not send any ships into battle this year. It was the first time in 12 years that Sea Shepherd has failed to confront the whalers in the Southern Ocean — except for 2014 when the Japanese whalers called off the hunt.

“What we discovered,” Watson said in a news release last August, “is that Japan is now employing military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite, and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us…. We cannot compete with their military-grade technology.”

Watson said he has also heard that the Japanese military may be sent to protect the whalers if Sea Shepherd tries to stop them.

Sea Shepherd is not giving up its efforts to protect the whales in the Southern Ocean, Watson stressed. Instead, the organization will develop new tactics while calling on the Australian government to do more to protect the whales.

In December, countries in the European Union and 12 other nations expressed their opposition to the whaling taking place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a protected area established by the International Whaling Commission. Australia and New Zealand, but not the United States, are among the signatories.

The “Joint statement against whaling” points out that the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the Japanese whaling did not meet the basic requirements for scientific studies. Legitimate research is one of the few exemptions that allow the killing of whales under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The Japanese called off the whaling the following summer in Antarctica but started it up again the next year under a new whaling plan submitted to the International Whaling Commission. The Japanese government said it would never again place itself under the jurisdiction of the international court.

The IWC has since questioned the new whaling plans and has adopted two resolutions calling on the Japanese to halt whaling until the new scientific plan can be reviewed by the Scientific Committee of the IWC. Japan objected to the process on procedural grounds in a position statement and ignored the international posture, including the latest IWC resolution (16-2) in 2016.

Plans to replace or overhaul the Nisshin Maru were first floated in 2005, according to sources quoted in Japan News. Nothing happened, however, until this year when the idea was resurrected by pro-whaling lawmakers in Japan.

The ship was built in 1987 as a trawler and converted to a whale processor in 1991. Whales harpooned by smaller vessels can be pulled up a gangway to the deck for slaughter. Up to 1,200 tons of meat can be stored in a freezer below decks, according to the newspaper.

“Even though the ship has been painted over, rust that can’t be hidden stands out,” said an observer quoted in Japan News. “It is old, aged nearly 100 in human years.”

Some reports said Japanese officials want a ship that could operate quicker on the high seas to evade Sea Shepherd’s aggressive actions, which they consider to be terrorism.

About 100 people were said to be on board the Nisshin Maru in November when the ship departed from Japan’s Innoshima island, Hiroshima Prefecture, heading for the Southern Ocean. The goal is to hunt up to 333 minke whales, a quota established by the Japanese government with no outside approval.

Japanese whalers intend to kill minke whales, despite world opinion

Japanese whalers recently returned to the Antarctic with a new plan to kill 333 minke whales for scientific research, defying official positions of many countries throughout the world.

A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 try to finish it off with a rifle. Photo: Sea Shepherd
A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 attempt to finish it off with rifle shots.
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Japan called off the annual whaling program for one year after the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s commercial whaling operation failed to meet the basic requirements of scientific research. Japan had been using an exemption for research to get around a ban on whaling under international treaty.

Japan submitted a new “research” plan for this year’s whaling, but the document has yet to receive any official sanction. In fact, Japan’s return to the Southern Ocean has been condemned by at least 33 government leaders.

Russell F. Smith II, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, said the U.S. government does not believe it is necessary to kill whales to carry out scientific research consistent with objectives of the IWC. Two key IWC committees have raised serious questions about Japan’s whaling program, he said.

“Japan has decided to proceed with the hunt without addressing several significant issues raised in their reports,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “One of the key issues raised during both the Expert Panel and SC (Scientific Committee) meetings was that Japan had not justified the need for lethal whaling to carry out its research. Unfortunately, rather than giving itself time to modify its research program to fully address these issues, Japan has decided to restart its program now.”

Japan’s plan for whaling this winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) is to kill 333 minke whales, down from 935 minkes in plans for previous years. In this new plan, the Japanese government has not sanctioned the killing of humpback or fin whales, for which the previous goal was 50 of each.

Although the Japanese government has declared that an annual harvest of 333 minke whales is sustainable, the International Whaling Commission has not approved the whale hunt nor even begun discussing possible quotas or how any harvest, if approved, would be allocated among other countries.

Minke whale Photo: Sea Shepherd
Minke whale // Photo: Sea Shepherd

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has informed the United Nations that it will no longer submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for “any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea.” See story, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19, 2015.

Australia, which brought the international lawsuit against Japan, is now considering another round in the legal battle. The effort could put Japan back in the spotlight, even though success would be unlikely if Japan spurns the court’s jurisdiction, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald on Dec. 8, 2015.

Australian courts also ruled against the Japanese whalers for violating protection provisions within the Australian Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica, although Japan does not recognize Australia’s jurisdiction. The whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, was fined $1 million (in Australian dollars) for contempt of an injunction against killing Minke whales within the sanctuary.

Other countries have joined the overall opposition to Japanese whaling. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his country’s ambassador to Tokyo delivered a “strong” formal message to Japan from 33 countries. Read the statement on the New Zealand Embassy’s webpage.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which directly interfered with the movements of Japanese whaling ships in past years, may take a more low-key role on whaling this year. The organization’s ships have become involved in new campaigns to halt poaching of other species, including the endangered toothfish in Antarctic waters. See news release Oct. 13, 2015.

Sea Shepherd’s U.S. affiliate was enjoined by the U.S. courts from interfering with the whaling operations, but Sea Shepherd Australia continued the high-seas battles, as featured in the television series “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet.

Now, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin, which was undergoing repairs in Melbourne, Australia, is headed into the Southern Ocean on its second campaign against toothfish poaching. Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, says new battles against the Japanese whalers are not out of the question.

“Sea Shepherd is an anti-poaching organization,” Cornelissen said in a news release. “We are ready to find, document, report on and where possible intervene against poaching operations that threaten the precious balance of life in the Southern Ocean; whatever form those poachers might take, whatever life they threaten.

“If Sea Shepherd comes across criminal activity, then our history speaks for itself,” he added. “We will, as always, directly intervene to prevent that crime from taking place.”

Sea Shepherd U.S., which was thwarted in direct action by the courts, has now filed a counterclaim in those same U.S. Courts, hoping to get a legal injunction against the Japanese government for its whaling activities. The legal campaign is called “Operation Ultimate Justice.”

“For years, Sea Shepherd took direct action against the whalers on the seas, saving one whale at a time from the Japanese harpoons,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “But if we are to bring the illegal slaughter to an end once and for all, we cannot simply defeat the Japanese whalers on the water; we need to defeat them in the courts.”

‘Whale Wars’ to return as two-hour special

“Whale Wars,” which chronicles dramatic high-seas clashes between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Japanese whalers, will be reduced to a two-hour television special this year. The program will run on Dec. 13 on the Animal Planet network.

whale wars

For five years, the program was produced as a weekly series. But we knew things were changing a year ago when Sea Shepherd decided to hire its own videographers instead of using an independent film crew associated with Animal Planet. Check out Water Ways, June 11, 2013.

Normally, the anti-whaling campaign ran through the summer whaling season in the Antarctic, generally from December into February or March. The series then followed each year in June. But this year the production was delayed, and it was hard to find out when the program would air or in what format.

Brian Eley, vice president of communications for Animal Planet, sent out a news release this morning explaining the new format with these highlights:

Capt. Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, is no longer in charge of the anti-whaling campaign at sea. He was ordered by federal courts in the U.S. to keep his vessels back from the Japanese whaling ships. As I’ve reported, the campaign was turned over to Sea Shepherd Australia, which the organization contends is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

“Leaderless and without Watson’s vast experience in aggressively engaging the whalers at sea, the Sea Shepherds are at a crossroads. Which one of the Sea Shepherds will take the mantle of leader and guide the group as they embark on their dangerous mission ‘to die for the whales?’”

Four captains are assigned to Sea Shepherd’s fleet, consisting of the Steve Irwin with Siddarth “Sid” Chakravarty at the helm; Bob Barker with Peter Hammarstedt; the trimaran Brigitte Bardot with Jean Yves Terlan; and the newest ship Sam Simon with Luis Manuel Pinho.

The actions of one of the rookie captains lead to tensions among the crew and the early retreat of one of the vessels, while another captain “makes a major decision that nearly causes a mutiny.”

Update, 5:30 p.m.: Brian Eley told me in an email that this year’s production was especially challenging. Animal Planet remained committed to following that actions of Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean, he said, but with all the “legal complexities” surrounding the organization, Animal Planet looked for an alternative to the formula used over the previous five years.

“We’re actually using the Sea Shepherds’ legal issues as a storytelling device in the special,” Brian said. “And because the Sea Shepherds’ shot the footage themselves, there was a delay in getting and then evaluating the thousands of hours of footage, so the series was delayed to this fall. What happened during their campaign was a story that made sense to produce as a two-hour special, not a multi-episode series.”

In another change this year, Animal Planet will offer a “ground-breaking, immersive online experience,” according to the news release. Included will be photos, video, interactive graphics and sound to produce a “powerful narrative that tells the tale of Watson and the Sea Shepherds, while also offering the perspective of the Japanese whalers whom they confront.” The new website will launch shortly before the television special.

Coincidentally, Watson and other members of Sea Shepherd are making an appearance this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, where they have argued that their actions did not violate the injunction issued last year. Reporter Gene Johnson wrote the story for The Associated Press.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Watson said one of the reasons he took the risk of being arrested this week was because he has not seen his granddaughter in 15 months. “So that was the most important thing about coming back.”

The next campaign in the Southern Ocean, still under the direction of Sea Shepherd Australia, is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, according to Watson.

There’s still no word if Animal Planet will be involved in another “Whale Wars” television series or special.

Japanese whaling on trial before UN court

UPDATE, July 4, 2013
Japanese officials say objections to its scientific whaling program are based on moral arguments, not legal ones. Australia cannot win this case, Japanese officials say, because the international treaty allows for scientific whaling and it allows member countries to determine for themselves what qualifies as science.

This legal position is explained in a story written by Andrew Darby published in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

A later story by Darby, published in today’s Herald, reports on the surprising testimony by a witness called by the Japanese government. The witness, a Norwegian expert named Lars Walloe, described several problems he had with the Japanese research, but he confirmed that it was research.
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Whether Japan’s annual whale hunt is a true scientific endeavor or a commercial operation without legal justification is the question being debated before the United Nations highest court this week.

Australia, supported by New Zealand, brought the case against Japan to the International Court of Justice, which is holding hearings in The Hague, Neatherlands.

Australia hopes to bring Japan’s whaling activities under normal prescriptions from the International Whaling Commission, as opposed to the ongoing scientific permits issued by the Japanese government that allow for hundreds of whales to be killed each year.

Bill Campbell, Australia’s agent to the court, addressed the 16-judge panel in the Great Hall of Justice, according to a report by Mike Corder of The Associated Press.

“Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” he said, later telling reporters, “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research.”

Japan, which will present its side next week, has stated that it will challenge the court’s authority to hear the case while justifying its whaling operations under international whaling agreements.

To read more about the court proceedings:

Mike Corder, Associated Press

Julian Drape, Australian Associated Press

Mary Gearin, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

‘Whale Wars’ delayed by production issues

For the past several years, June has brought us a new television season of “Whale Wars.” But this year the production has been delayed, and nobody seems to know when the show is likely to air.

whale wars

Whale Wars, of course, is the weekly documentary showing confrontations on the high seas, as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tries to stop Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.

As I reported in January (Water Ways, Jan. 4), Sea Shepherd hired its own film crew during this past whaling season (summer in the Antarctic, winter here). At the time, it seemed like the group did so to be able to control the filming. But in a new blog entry in The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian suggests that it was the Animal Planet producers who got cold feet, given the Ninth Circuit Court injunction that prevented Sea Shepherd from getting within 500 feet of the Japanese ships.

The U.S. affiliate of Sea Shepherd and Capt. Paul Watson himself withdrew from the anti-whaling campaign, leaving in charge the Australian affiliate, which is not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction.

Brian Eley, senior communications manager for Discovery Channel, responded to my inquiry yesterday, saying it isn’t clear when Season 6 of “Whale Wars” will air. Footage was delayed this year “through no fault of anyone.”

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U.S. court declares Sea Shepherd a ‘pirate’ group

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” begins Judge Alex Kozinski, launching into a scathing ruling against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which the judge calls a “pirate” organization.

Kozinski, chief judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, concluded in a ruling today that U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had made “numerous, serious and obvious errors” when he declined to issue an injunction against Sea Shepherd for its high-seas battle against Japanese whalers.

The three-judge panel ordered that the case be removed from Jones’ jurisdiction and turned over to another Seattle district judge drawn at random.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Cetacean Research — the Japanese whaling organization — continues its effort to get a contempt-of-court citation issued against Sea Shepherd, which has increased its efforts to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd remains under a U.S. Court of Appeals injunction, which requires that the organization’s ships operate safely and stay 500 yards away from the Japanese vessels.

I’ll provide an update on Sea Shepherd’s activities in a separate blog post, but let me first tell you more about Kozinski’s ruling (PDF 238 kb), which finds nothing commendable about any of Sea Shepherd’s actions.

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Sea Shepherd claims victory over Antarctic whalers

UPDATE: March 16

The Japanese whaling fleet killed 266 Antarctic minke whales this year, compared to a government quota of 850, plus one fin whale, compared to a quota of 50, according to Michihiko Kano, Japan’s minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The Mainichi Daily News, based in Japan, reports that the low numbers were attributed to bad weather but noted that Sea Shepherd obstructed the whaling operations 11 times during the season.
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Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has completed another year of battling Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic, and again this year a camera crew was on board its ships to film a new season of “Whale Wars.” The new season of the TV show will begin in June.

The Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru 2 shoots its water cannons at a Sea Shepherd inflatable, which had approached it.
Photo by Billy Danger, Sea Shepherd

The Japanese government reportedly provided $30 million from its tsunami and earthquake relief fund to continue the whaling, which the government allows as “scientific research.” The ban on whaling includes an exemption for research, but the International Whaling Commission has failed to preclude the commercial sale of meat from “research” animals. The result has been an ongoing dispute about whether commercial whaling should be considered research.

Needless to say, Sea Shepherd does not consider it research. For the past eight years, the whale-advocacy group has followed the whaling fleet and disrupted the hunt whenever possible.

For much of the recent whaling season, which began in December, Sea Shepherd was able to divert the attention of two harpoon ships and a security vessel. Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said the whalers ignored their own protocols this year by going to the same area as last year:

“This illustrates that they really have no scientific agenda at all since their so-called survey requires them to ‘sample’ whales from the two different areas alternatively each year. This is not about science and it never has been. It’s not even about profit anymore because we have negated their profits. It’s simply about pride. Whaling in the Southern Ocean has become a heavily subsidized welfare project for an archaic industry that has no place in the twenty-first century.”

The following chronology was compiled from reports issued by Sea Shepherd and by the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research:
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Japanese whalers attack Sea Shepherd with U.S. law

The Institute of Cetacean Research, which manages Japan’s whaling operations in the Antarctic, and Kyodo Senpaku, which owns the whaling ships, are seeking a court order against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The goal: to block Sea Shepherd from its “numerous violent and dangerous attacks against persons and vessels engaged in whaling, sealing and fishing.”

Court exhibit allegedly showing rope entangled on the propeller of the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 3
(U.S. District Court filing)

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, claims the court has jurisdiction over matters between U.S. and foreign citizens when the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Sea Shepherd is based in Washington state, thus the filing in our region.

The ICR asserts that Sea Shepherd has violated international treaties and laws, including the “Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation” and the “Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.”

The lawsuit alleges that tactics used by Sea Shepherd have endangered Japanese whaling ships and their crews. Tactics listed include throwing butyric-acid-filled bottles, smoke bombs and incendiary devices; ramming one ship into another; and entangling the propellers with ropes.

Quoting from the lawsuit (PDF 176 kb):

“Unless enjoined as requested below, defendants will very soon engage in attacks on plaintiffs that will seriously endanger the safety of the masters, their crew and researchers, and the vessels owned by Kyodo Senpaku and chartered by ICR.

“Navigating in the Southern Ocean can be dangerous given the cold waters, the presence of icebergs, the possibility of storms, and its isolated location far from ready third-party assistance. If a ship lost propulsion or steerage due to a successful fouling rope attack, the ship, its Master, crew, and researchers could be put in serious jeopardy, especially in the vicinity of floating ice or if a storm or heavy seas occurred.

“The safety and health of the ship’s crew are endangered by the launching of projectiles against the ship, especially glass projectiles filled with butyric acid. A crew member could be blinded in such an attack or receive a blow to the head or body or be cut by pieces of glass. Such attacks also cause fear or distress in the crew, thus interfering with the normal operations on board. Incendiary devices like those launched in the past could cause a fire or, even worse, an explosion. Close-quarter attacks by SSCS vessels run the risk of a collision.

“Ramming of ICR’s and Kyodo Senpaku’s ships could cause them (or SSCS vessels) to sink or suffer other serious damage. The court should declare that defendants’ violent tactics employed in the past against ICR’s and Kyodo Senpaku’s activities in the Southern Ocean are unlawful, and the court should issue the injunctive relief requested below so that plaintiffs’ property and the lives of the Masters, their crew, and researchers are not endangered.”

Court exhibit allegedly showing damage to rudder of Yushin Maru No. 3 from prop fouler.
(U.S. District Court filing)

I have not talked to Paul Watson about this, but the Sea Shepherd leader has commented in news stories that he is not concerned about the lawsuit. Here’s what Watson said in a press release from his organization:

“This is simply a case of using the courts to harass us. I don’t believe they have a case and I doubt a U.S. court would take this seriously. Unlike Japan, the courts in the United States don’t automatically do what the government demands that they do.”

Watson claims in the press release that the whalers have been the aggressors:

“We have the images of the Japanese whalers destroying one of our ships, ramming our ships, running over our crew, firing upon us, throwing concussion grenades, deploying acoustical weapons, hitting us with water cannons and bamboo spears and they are suing us because they are accusing us of violence towards them.”

In an article published yesterday (Monday), Watson told Radio Australia that he almost welcomes the lawsuit:

“In fact, it’s actually a very positive thing because by filing in a US court, that gives us the opportunity to counter sue them for the destruction of the Ady Gil and for illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean, so our lawyers are certainly going to take advantage of this.”

For background on the Ady Gil, see Water Ways, Dec. 20, 2009. For all Water Ways entries on Sea Shepherd, visit this search page.

Another news release (PDF 12 kb) comes from the Institute of Cetacean Research, but reading the court complaint (PDF 176 kb) is more interesting.

Sea Shepherd claims victory for whales in Antarctic

Unbridled joy has overtaken crews on three Sea Shepherd vessels as they celebrate a Japanese surrender from whaling in the Antarctic this year — and possibly for all time.

“Everybody is overjoyed, laughing and crying and hugging,” said Izumi Stephens, who is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, one of the three vessels harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Izumi Stephens

I spoke to Izumi by satellite phone after the Japanese government announced an end to whaling a month early this year. (See story by Martin Fackler in the New York Times Global Edition.) Japanese analysts are now speculating that whaling in the Southern Ocean may never resume, because of the costs, challenges and changes in the market for whale meat.

“We think the entire thing could be finishing,” Izumi said of Antarctic whaling efforts. “This may be the last year in the Southern Ocean for everybody.”

Check out recent stories in the Japanese news organization Daily Yomiuri Online, one of which includes this statement:

“In addition to Sea Shepherd’s acts of sabotage, low domestic demand for whale meat — which used to be a valuable source of protein during the food-scarce postwar years — also has made the prospect of continuing whaling extremely gloomy, officials said.”

Izumi, if you recall, is a Japanese woman who lives on Bainbridge Island. After her husband died, she became committed to opposing the killing of dolphins and whales. She joined Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in November as a Japanese-language translator and has spent the past three months involved in the high-seas campaign against the Japanese whalers. See Water Ways for Jan. 14 and Nov. 1.

The so-called surrender has become big news in Japan, and Izumi has taken calls from Japanese reporters and conversed in her native language:

“I’ve told them that this is a big, big victory, a big victory for the whales. We are not against the Japanese people or the Japanese government. We are against the whalers…. We are not terrorists; we are just intervening against the commercial whalers.”

Through the Internet, Izumi has been keeping up with numerous Japanese news reports and blogs, where she has found herself under personal attack.

“People in Japan are mad at me. They call me a traitor to my country.”

Izumi is the first Japanese translator for Sea Shepherd to make her identity known to the public. During taping for the television show “Whale Wars,” she has not covered her face or kept her name secret, as previous Japanese translators have done. The revalation of a possible end to whaling in the Antarctic has raised her profile more than she anticipated.

“I never expected that it would be like this final end,” she told me.

She had imagined that the whaling season would end, as usual, in March and she would return home to her family. Then she would have all summer to decide if she should do it again. Instead, the “Japanese surrender” a month early — with uncertain prospects for the future — has created a media blitz and new level of anger in Japan.

“I can see in the newspapers that people are really mad,” she said. “My face is coming up on Japanese TV.”

The Japanese whaling organization, known as the Institute of Cetacean Research, consistently calls Sea Shepherd an eco-terrorist organization. The group regularly complains that Sea Shepherd’s flagship countries, Australia and the Netherlands, fail to take action for acts of “terrorism and harassment,” including bombardment with glass projectiles, smoke bombs and “incendiary devices.” The latest reports talked about the use of lasers aimed at the whaling ships. See ICR new releases.

According to the report in Daily Yomiuri Online, the processing ship Nisshin Maru was unable to shake off the faster Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and Gojira.

Capt. Paul Watson, who directs Sea Shepherd, said the ability of his ships to stay with the whaling fleet made all the difference in this year’s success in minimizing the number of whales killed. Scroll down to the bottom of this entry to view the on-board video that Watson issued Saturday.

The Daily Yomiuri story quoted anonymously a high-ranking ministry official, who outlined four options for continued whaling:

  • Have the whaling fleet escorted by Japan Coast Guard vessels or others, an idea discussed in 2007 but scrapped for lack of escort ships.
  • Build new whaling vessels capable of traveling at high speed, an idea considered “almost impossible” because of costs.
  • Replace research whaling with commercial whaling, an idea that lacks support from other countries.
  • Continue current whaling arrangements, which has proven to be costly and difficult given the interference of Sea Shepherd.

Izumi said none of the options seems likely, but one never knows.

Another issue faced by the Japanese, she told me, is the success of the television show “Whale Wars,” which has brought notoriety and donations to the anti-whaling cause. The Japanese government may be concerned that Sea Shepherd will use its new-found clout to bring more attention to the decline of blue fin tuna (See Operation Blue Rage) and to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and other places around the world.

For now, Izumi is eager to get home to Bainbridge Island.

“I am really homesick,” she told me. “I want to squeeze my kids and pet my dogs and maybe take a nice hot shower. Yes, a long shower.”

Said Watson in a news release:

“I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations including Japan and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary.”

The Steve Irwin is scheduled to meet up with the Bob Barker and return to Hobart, Australia. Izumi hopes to fly back home to the Puget Sound region on March 10.