Sea Shepherd crew, left, confronts Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean during the group’s Operation Leviathan 2006-2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) Posted for media use
By Sunny Lewis
BURBANK, California, January 18, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – The Japanese whaling fleet is killing minke whales in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica right now without opposition for the first time in 12 years.
Citing Japan’s military grade technology and new anti-terrorism laws that make interference with Japan’s whaling fleet in Antarctica a criminal offense, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is not pursuing the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean as it has done every year since 2006.
Japan’s whaling fleet sails at the end of every year to the Southern Ocean to kill whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which has been in place since 1994. That year Japan announced it would increase its catch of whales there, in the name of science, they claim. Over the years thousands of whales have been killed in the sanctuary, despite a worldwide ban on commercial whaling imposed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Conservationists view Japan’s whaling as illegal because it is conducted under a provision of the IWC rules that allows for research whaling, but Japan takes the meat from the whales they catch and sells it for profit.
Captain Paul Watson, who founded Sea Shepherd in Vancouver, Canada in 1977, has used confrontational tactics to interfere with Japan’s whaling fleet to protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
He has purchased ships, painted them black, and sailed them to the Southern Ocean in search of the Japanese whalers. When he found them, Watson’s crews placed Sea Shepherd ships in the paths of the whaling vessels, hurled flares and bottles of rotten butter aboard them, sent representatives to board them carrying a stop whaling message to the captain, even collided with the whalers to knock them off their game.
Watson is proud of the fact that no one has ever been injured or killed in these confrontations, and some 6,000 minke whales, and hundreds of endangered humpback and fin whales have been saved from the Japanese harpoons. But now, faced with stiffened Japanese resistance, Watson is directing his efforts toward saving other marine species instead of whales in the Southern Ocean.
“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,” Watson said in August 2017.
During Operation Nemesis in 2016-2017, the Sea Shepherd ships did get close, he said, and their helicopter managed to get evidence of Japan’s illegal whaling operations but the Sea Shepherd could not physically close the gap.
“We cannot compete with their military grade technology,” said Watson.
“This year,” Watson explained, “Japan escalated their resistance with the passing of new anti-terrorism laws, some of which are specifically designed to condemn Sea Shepherd tactics. For the first time ever, they have stated they may send their military to defend their illegal whaling activities.”
“The Japanese whalers not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic super-power,” Watson said.
But the Sea Shepherd’s financial resources are limited and Watson says his ocean protection organization faces hostile governments in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Watson said, “The decision we have had to face is: do we spend our limited resources on another campaign to the Southern Ocean that will have little chance of a successful intervention OR do we regroup with different strategies and tactics?”
He has decided to regroup and come up with a different plan to shut down “the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet,” but Watson vows he will not abandon the whales or the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Sea Shepherd exposed Japan’s activities to the world with the Animal Planet TV show “Whale Wars” and the organization’s own documentation.
Watson says Sea Shepherd helped to push Australia into taking Japan to the International Court of Justice, IJC, where their operations were ruled to be unlawful. Japan was ordered by the ICJ to cease whaling.
Japan did so for a year and then returned with a new program, that Watson says is also illegal. The new program reduced their self-allocated kill quota from 1,035 whales a year, including a yearly quota of 50 endangered Humpbacks and 50 endangered Fin whales, to 333 whales each year.
This means that since 2015, at least 1,400 whales have been spared the lethal harpoons. Now, 702 whales every year will continue to live.
Now, Watson says, it’s time for the Australian government to live up to their promises. Sea Shepherd has been down in the Southern Ocean doing what the Australian government has the responsibility to do but have refused to do, and that is upholding international and Australian conservation law.
Instead of supporting Sea Shepherd the Australian government has been supporting the Japanese whalers by harassing Sea Shepherd and obstructing Sea Shepherd’s ability to raise funds by denying the group’s status as a charitable organization.
Regardless of opposition, Sea Shepherd has grown enormously over the 40 years since it was founded. The organization now has offices in: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Galapagos, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.
“Perhaps more significantly than anything else, there are now voices in the Japanese government opposing the continuation of whaling. Our efforts have been like acupuncture needles stuck into Japanese society, probing and provoking responses. We have exposed the incredible waste of money, the corruption and the shame this dirty business has brought to all the Japanese people,” Watson said.
Watson has had his own legal problems over the years. Pursued by Japan and Costa Rica, he fled to live in exile in France. Click here to see a complete account of these issues and Watson’s recovery from them.
He says Sea Shepherd’s efforts to go after and shut down whalers will continue, not only against Japanese whaling, but also against Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic whaling.
“This is what we have been doing for 40 years,” Watson said, recalling his early intervention against Russian whalers off the California coast in 1975, even before he formed the Sea Shepherd two years later.
He was then one of the founding members of the NGO Greenpeace, which originated in Vancouver, Canada in 1971.
Because Watson pushed a strategy of direct action in conflict with the Greenpeace interpretation of nonviolence, he was ousted from the Greenpeace Board of Directors in 1977. He then left the organization to found the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Watson said, “We will never quit until the abomination of whaling is abolished forever by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.”
Greenpeace, which also went after the Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean until 2008, has instead mounted a campaign focused on changing the Japanese perception of its whaling program at home, although Greenpeace campaigners risked 10 years in jail for exposing corruption in the program.
It was not until after a Greenpeace campaigner’s conviction that the Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted that at least five officials had been involved in illegally taking whale meat as bribes and for profit.
This year, Greenpeace is returning to Antarctica to document what is happening in the newly protected Ross Sea – large-scale factory fishing of Antarctic krill, the basis of the region’s food web, plastic pollution and climate change.
On December 1, 2017, the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area came into force. Created by the Antarctic Ocean Commission, it covers 1.5 million square kilometres, currently the world’s largest protected area. Now, Greenpeace wants a higher level of protection.
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, now is sailing South. For the next three months, the crew will work alongside a team of campaigners, photographers, film-makers, scientists and journalists to build a case for the world’s largest protected area: an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary
This year, Sea Shepherd is taking other direct actions to save threatened marine life, including the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California.
Threats to the 30 remaining vaquita are caused by human greed, says Watson, despite the species’ protected status in Mexico and a designated vaquita refuge created in the upper Gulf.
Fisherman, poachers often working with drug traffickers, are setting illegal gillnets hoping to catch a fish similar in size to the vaquitas, the totoaba. This critically endangered bass is prized for its swim bladder which is sold on the black market in China and Hong Kong for tens of thousands of dollars, earning it the nickname “aquatic cocaine.”
As the vaquita swim in the refuge, they become entangled in the totoaba nets, and, unable to reach the surface, they drown.
As a direct-action organization, Sea Shepherd is working in partnership with the Mexican government on Operation Milagro IV to protect the vaquita refuge. Two Sea Shepherd ships have been stationed in the Gulf of California since fall 2017, working to remove gillnets, patrol for poachers, document and collect data to share with the scientific community, and report all suspicious activity to the Mexican Navy, who will make arrests as needed.
This protective effort has run into armed opposition. On January 2, despite gunshots being fired at its surveillance drone again, Sea Shepherd, together with the Mexican Navy, drove poachers off the protected vaquita refuge and saved the life of an endangered totoaba fish from their illegal nets.
This was the second shoot-out, and the first in daylight, directed at Sea Shepherd in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico, in less than a week. In the first incident, on Christmas Eve 2017, poachers shot down the conservationists’ night vision drone.
“The endangered vaquita would now be extinct if not for our intervention,” says Watson, who takes credit for many other victories for ocean creatures.
“We shut down the entire Southern Ocean pirate toothfish fleet. We have intercepted and stopped poachers off West Africa, in the marine reserves of the Galapagos, Sicily and Panama,” said Watson. “We have removed hundreds of tons of ghost nets and plastics from the sea, and most importantly we have shown the world what a few passionate and courageous people can do.”
“Our objective is to continue to serve and protect all life in the Ocean from illegal and greedy exploitation by destructive humans,” Watson said. “Sea Shepherd is guided by this one reality: If the Ocean dies, we die!”
Featured image: Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson in Antarctica, 2009 (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) Posted for media use.