Tag Archives: whaling

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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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.

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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Bainbridge’s Izumi Stephens is off to guard ‘the cove’

Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, who appeared in the program “Whale Wars” last year, has returned to her native Japan as a “Cove Guardian” for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Izumi Stephens

Izumi left yesterday, traveling with her daughter Fiona, who will be 14 in April and who shares her mother’s passion to save whales and dolphins.

Cove Guardians are volunteers who document and photograph the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, a town made famous by the award-winning documentary “The Cove.”

I talked to Izumi Wednesday before she flew out. She was excited and a little nervous. As a Japanese citizen who has lived in the United States 19 years, she was not sure how she would be received by Japanese residents when she stands alongside Sea Shepherd volunteers.

A year ago at this time, Izumi was serving aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin as it followed Japanese whaling ships and disrupted their activities in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica. Izumi translated messages between the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd and helped coordinate coverage by Japanese reporters.

Izumi was the first Japanese translator who did not conceal her identity from the photographers filming “Whale Wars,” a weekly reality program on Animal Planet. Izumi appeared in several scenes but was not a major character. Check out my initial story for the Kitsap Sun on Oct. 31, 2010, with follow-up reports on Water Ways: Jan. 4, 2011 Feb. 22, 2011 … and June 1, 2011.

Izumi says her language skills may come in handy in Taiji. Also, her understanding of Japanese values may help her build a “bridge of understanding” with the Japanese people. Many see no difference between killing dolphins and killing fish to eat, she said, yet dolphins are intelligent mammals, and the rate of hunting cannot be sustained.

“To them, killing dolphins is a tradition,” she said, “but every country has its horrible traditions. Spain gave up the bull fight, and Japan can give up this.”

Izumi said her daughter Fiona put together a school project about the anti-whaling conflict last year, so she understands the arguments on both sides.

Cove Guardians say they are careful to obey the local laws as they document the daily killing of dolphins, which they claim is about 20,000 per year. Besides documenting and filming the deaths of dolphins and the movement of fishing boats, the general goal is to create a sense of shame among the hunters and local residents, they say.

Suzanne West of Seattle, whose husband Scott is coordinating Cove Guardians in Japan, said Izumi may receive increasesd attention from the Japanese media. Some people will be surprised at her opposition to the hunt. By now, most Japanese are fairly used to seeing Western visitors speaking in opposition to the events in Taiji, said Suzanne, who coordinates efforts in the U.S.

“A big thing is making them aware that the world is watching,” Suzanne said. “We got a lot of footage last year of them actually killing the dolphins.”

Now, the hunters are conducting the slaughter behind tarps, she noted, “but we can still count the actual bodies going in with none coming out.”

Izumi will return to Bainbridge Island on Thursday, March 1. Two days later, she will participate in a gathering of Sea Shepherd supporters at Casa Rojas Mexican restaurant, 403 Madison Ave., on Bainbridge Island. The event is free, with donations going to Sea Shepherd. For reservations, e-mail Seattle Sea Shepherd.

Izumi’s arrival in Japan coincides with the release from jail of Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen of the Netherlands, who was arrested in December during a pushing incident while trying to photograph dolphins in the cove.

A judge ruled that Vermeulen should pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,315 U.S.), but he cannot leave Japan pending an appeal by the prosecutor. Officials with Sea Shepherd say they may file formal proceedings to protest the two-month detention for a minor crime. See Expatica News.

Update, Feb. 18: After I posted this blog entry, I received an e-mail from Sea Shepherd’s media department that provides additional details and clarifies the Expatica report. See News Release (PDF 24 kb)

"The Cove," Taiji, Japan / Sea Shepherd photo

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.

‘Whale Wars’ series includes Bainbridge woman

Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, now a full-fledged crew member with Sea Shepherd, is looking forward to watching the fourth season of “Whale Wars,” which begins Friday.

Izumi Stephens

A preview for the program shows Izumi standing on the deck of a ship, gazing into the ocean with tears in her eyes. The clip is so short that even she can’t recall when that emotional moment was caught on film.

“It was probably when I saw a whale,” she said — though it could have been during other events, such as when the Sea Shepherd crew searched for a private yacht that had gone missing. Only an empty lifeboat was found.

Izumi, who has not seen any of the final footage, said she remained in an emotional state during much of the voyage through the Southern Ocean, where Sea Shepherd did its best to disrupt the operations of the Japanese whaling fleet.

Many crew members cried tears of happiness when they learned that the Japanese whalers were packing up and leaving the Antarctic a month earlier than normal, their efforts to catch whales confounded by the anti-whaling group. The whaling would stop — at least for this year — and Sea Shepherd crew members would return home to their families.

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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.

Bainbridge mom proud of her anti-whaling efforts

Izumi Stephens, the Bainbridge Island woman who traveled to the Antarctic to defend whales against Japanese whalers, has ridden an emotional roller-coaster during her first 40 days at sea.

Izumi Stephens

One thing Izumi has learned is that the sight of a humpback whale can lift her spirits, she told me today by satellite phone from the Southern Ocean.

A native of Japan, this single mom signed on with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a translator. She is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, which is part of a three-vessel anti-whaling fleet in pursuit of four Japanese whaling ships. (Check out previous descriptions of Izumi in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 31 and Water Ways Nov. 1.)

The Steve Irwin left Hobart, Australia, on Dec. 2. Izumi was at sea about three weeks — having survived a bout of severe sea sickness as well as homesickness — when she spotted a massive humpback whale off the side of the ship.

“Before I saw a whale, I was desperately wanting to see my daughter and go back home, and I wanted to touch my dogs,” she told me. “Then I saw a whale, and I think my determination and motivation and everything caught up with me.”

She still misses her children, her friends and her community, she says, but seeing that first whale reminded her why she had joined the battle in the first place.

“I’m doing this for the whales and our future and our community,” she told me, “and I’m so proud.”

Spending weeks at sea is an experience like nothing she has ever faced before, Izumi said. She takes her turn at mopping floors, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. She has used her language skills on only a few occasions — mostly to speak to Japanese reporters covering the story and updating Sea Shepherd’s new Japanese-language website.

Watching whales swimming in the ocean has brought real meaning to the anti-whaling campaign, she said. A day or two after that first sighting, Sea Shepherd faced its first encounter with the Japanese whaling fleet.
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Passion for whales links woman to Sea Shepherd

A Bainbridge Island resident, Izumi Stephens, will join Sea Shepherd in its upcoming campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic, as I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Izumi Stephens

A native of Japan, Izumi will serve as an on-board interpreter for the anti-whaling group. While engaging whalers, Sea Shepherd has an occasional need to converse with Japanese ship captains as well as conveying information to Japanese news reporters.

If you’ve watched “Whale Wars” on television, you know about Sea Shepherd’s highly confrontational approach to the Japanese fleet, often maneuvering its vessels into dangerous positions in front, behind and alongside the massive whaling ships.

Capt. Paul Watson, who heads Sea Shepherd, broke away from Greenpeace in 1977 as he pushed for more severe actions against whaling operations throughout the world. In 1980, “operatives” from his three-year-old organization took credit for sinking the whaling ship Sierra in Lisbon, Portugal — the first of many similar attacks.

Sea Shepherd, which operates throughout the world, has an ongoing connection to the Northwest. Its international headquarters is located in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, and Watson frequently returns to this region.
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International Whaling Commission has its hands full

UPDATE, Friday, June 25
“There are no winners and losers in this,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former prime minister. “It ain’t over til it’s over, and even then it ain’t over. There will be a pause. We will resume discussions about this next year,” he told The Associated Press.

As the IWC meeting ended today, Greenland’s native population was granted permission to hunt a few humpback whales for the next three years, expanding the list of species the Greenlanders are allowed to kill under the license of subsistence hunting.
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UPDATE, Wednesday, June 23
Whaling moratorium talks break down — so whaling nations will continue to set their own limits. Changes in the governance of the International Whaling Commission will be considered. See report in Reuters.
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UPDATE, Tuesday, June 22
A Norwegian delegate to the International Whaling Commission, Karsten Klepsvick, told Reuters reporters today that the compromise being debated behind closed doors will fail:

“As we can see it today, we do not believe these negotiations will succeed. There are at least eight, ten stumbling blocks, but the main stumbling block is that those who are against whaling seem to be willing to accept nothing but nil (quotas), and we cannot accept that.”
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The future of the International Whaling Commission — and perhaps even the survival of certain whale species — rests on decisions being made this week in Morocco.

While I have no personal insight into this story, I think it’s worth summarizing activities swirling around the meeting that began today. If you haven’t heard, a controversial proposal by IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira would lift the ban on whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway. In return, the three countries would come back into the fold of the IWC, with new quotas officially imposed by the commission to reduce recent harvest levels.

Maquieira says his plan could save thousands of whales a year. (Check out an article Maquieira wrote for the BBC or read a press release (PDF 40 kb) issued by the IWC.) As the annual meeting of the IWC got under way today, Maquiera was not present due to illness, according to reporter Arthur Max of the Associated Press.

Deputy Chairman Anthony Liverpool opened the meeting then quickly moved the discussions behind closed doors for two days of negotiations among the strident anti-whaling countries as well as those that insist that whaling is a long-held cultural right. It’s in those meetings that things may come to a head.

Currently, Japan, Iceland and Norway set their own whaling quotas. Japan claims an exemption in the IWC Charter that allows for the taking of whales for scientific research — even though nearly all the whale meat ends up in the commercial market. Iceland and Norway operate under a process that allows formal objections to the whaling moratorium.

In a surprise move leading up to today’s meeting, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment Group and the World Wildlife Fund said in a joint statement (PDF 420 kb) that a compromise on quotas is possible but only if six essential elements are met:

  1. End all whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary near Antarctica.
  2. All whale products must be consumed in the country for which the hunt was authorized.
  3. Catch limits must be calculated by the IWC’s scientific committee to assure appropriate management procedures.
  4. Harvest of threatened, endangered or vulnerable species would not be allowed.
  5. Scientific whaling beyond the limits set by the IWC would not be allowed.
  6. Contracting governments must agree not to operate under objections to the agreement as originally allowed in the IWC Charter.

Meanwhile, other environmental groups argue that it is wrong to kill whales and that any compromise serves to reward the whaling countries for bad behavior. As Nikki Entrup of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society told John Vidal of The Guardian:

“It would be a fundamental mistake now to reward those three whaling nations who have continued to ignore the international consensus on commercial whaling and are opposed by millions of people around the world. What kind of message does that give out to countries like Korea who used to whale? I urge Greenpeace to withdraw their position. They want to do the right thing in principle but more whales are killed in the northern hemisphere than in the south.”

Japan has hinted that it might pull out of the IWC if member nations can’t abide its whaling activities. Meanwhile, Australia has filed an action against Japan in the International Court of Justice, saying Japan’s actions are a direct violation of the international whaling ban in the Southern Ocean.

International politics and intrigue run thick through this whole story. Check out last weekend’s Times of London for an investigative report accusing Japan of bribing officials of other countries to come to the IWC meeting and support whaling.

It will be interesting to see if members of the IWC can find a way to make the organization relevant again.