SEA SHEPHERD, THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT, ANTI-WHALING ACTIVITIES AND WHY WHALING HAS ENDURED IN JAPAN

WHALING AND THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT

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protest outside a shop in Nagasaki
that sells whale meat
The Fisheries Agency, which is part of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, runs Japan’s research whaling program. Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “During the long tenure of the Liberal Democratic Party, whaling was one of the sacred cows of Japanese politics, embraced by a group of nationalist lawmakers within the party who saw it as a rare issue where Tokyo could appeal to conservatives by waving the flag and saying no to Washington. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 15, 2010]

It remains to be seen how the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which was voted into power in August 2009, will deal with the whaling issue. While there is also a group of pro-whaling lawmakers in the new governing party, it is much smaller, with just a few active members. The leader of the group, Tadamasa Kodaira, told the New York Times the DPJ was firmly committed to research whaling. Last summer, the party’s election platform included promises to seek a resumption of commercial whaling, though it did not specifically mention the government-run research program. [Ibid]

Kodaira told the New York Times said he recognized that Japan’s whaling industry had shrunk to just a few hundred jobs, mostly paid for by the government. However, he said that the recent aggressive actions of foreign environmental groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has clashed with Japanese whaling ships near the Antarctic, had fanned popular ire, making it impossible for Tokyo to compromise now. “We can’t change now because it would look like giving in,” said Mr. Kodaira, a lawmaker from the northern island of Hokkaido. “Will we have to give up tuna next?” As of 2011, the DPJ had left the program untouched. [Ibid]

“The Japanese government seems paralyzed by the same combination of nationalist passions and entrenched bureaucratic interests.” Fackler wrote. “Tokyo seemed to hint at a compromise in March 2010 when it said that Japan was willing to kill fewer whales. But whaling’s opponents and supporters alike in Japan say that it remains politically difficult for Tokyo to accept large reductions in its whale hunts.” “We’re entering a new period on the whaling issue, but we don’t know what it means yet,” Shohei Yonemoto, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Tokyo, told the New York Times.

Decline of the Japanese Whale Industry

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The whaling industry in Japan is dying and manages to stay afloat only with the help of government subsidies. Most large fishing companies have gotten out of the whale meat business, partly to avoid bad publicity.

Many of those who like whale meat don’t eat it because whale meat is too expensive. It sells for as much as the best tuna (¥3000 a kilogram) and is promoted as a delicacy. Greenpeace is making an effort to convince Japanese not to eat whale by pointing out that whale meat contains high concentration of cancer-causing PCBs.

These day more people in Japan go on whale watching trips than eat whale. In 1998, more than 100,000 people in Japan went on whale watching trips.

In the early 2000s, about 30 percent of the 725-ton harvest of whale meat went unsold and the wholesale price was cut to $11 a pound. Loses by the industry were covered by taxpayers. In 2005, 3,945 tons of whale meat was in storage, about three fourths of the catch for the entire year. Reducing prices 50 percent had little impact on the stockpile. Japan has had so much difficulty selling whale meat that it has resorted to using it in dog food according to the Britain-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

Why the Whaling Program Endures

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humpbacks
Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Officials said that one reason the program remained hard to cut was that its budget was so small: only $86 million, of which only $17 million is paid for by the government in cash or zero-interest loans, according to a freelance journalist, Junko Sakuma, who has written extensively about whaling. The rest comes from the sale of whale meat, mostly that of the nonendangered minke whales. That means anyone trying to cut the program would risk a huge political outcry from nationalists for only marginal budget savings, all of which creates a huge incentive to do nothing.”[Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 15, 2010]

“The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, one of the most secretive ministries in Japan’s powerful central bureaucracy, has also fiercely resisted any efforts to shrink the program. Among its crucial weapons have been Japanese journalists, who enjoy close ties with the ministry and have tended to dutifully report its claims that research whaling defends Japan’s traditional culture.” [Ibid]

Whaling experts say the real reason the ministry wants to keep the program alive is to secure cushy retirement jobs for ministry officials, a common practice that is widely criticized. A study last year by the Democratic Party showed that the Institute of Cetacean Research, a ministry-controlled agency that oversees the research whaling program, reserves jobs for at least five former ministry officials, including one earning an annual salary of more than $130,000. Kyodo Senpaku, a government-owned company that operates the whaling fleet, hires another one.” “Research whaling claims to be protecting science and culture, but it is really just protecting bureaucratic self-interest,” Atsushi Ishii, a professor of environmental politics at Tohoku University in Sendai, told the New York Times. [Ibid]

“Even its proponents concede that the only real purpose of research whaling is to sustain the shrinking whaling industry,” fackler wrote, even though much of the meat piles up uneaten in freezers and the last private company dropped out of the Antarctic hunt four years ago. That, in turn, has led to a new round of criticism over the program’s failure to fulfill its own goals of preserving Japan’s whaling industry and traditional whaling culture.”

Involved directly in the research whaling are the government-affiliated Institute of Cetacean Research and companies offering whaling boats and personnel under contracts with the institute. Only about 180 people go whaling in the Antarctic Ocean every season, according to the fisheries agency.

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minke whale

Japanese Whaling an International Relations

Japan has given the six small island countries in the Caribbean–St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Antigua, Dominica, Grenada and St.. Kitts and Nevis---over $100 million in aid between 1998 and 2006 essentially in return for their support on pro-whaling issues in the IWC. These countries began receiving the aid after voting in favor killing whales as members of the International Whaling Commission.

Japans has been accused by Greenpeace of "buying back the right to whale." One of Japan's whaling negotiators seemed to admit as much when he said, "To get appreciation of Japan's position, it is natural we must resort" to using overseas development adi and diplomatic persuasion.

Japan has encouraged countries like Palau, Cape Verde, Gabon, Nauru, Tuvalu and land-bound Mongolia to join the IWC to support their positions.

In retaliation for Japan's decision to kill 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde's whales, the United States decided in 2000 to prohibit all Japanese boats from fishing in the 200-mile fishing zone of the United States. This prohibition wasn't a very harsh punishment considering Japan had not fished in these area since 1988.

The IWC has effectively become paralyzed by its division into anti-whaling and pro-whaling camps, with the two sides hardly even talking to one another. The Japanese claim the IWC had been "hijacked" by special interests NGOs such as Greenpeace and anti-whaling nations such as Australia and New Zealand. It has threatened to quit the IWC and form a new whaling body after facing strong opposition to its proposal to allow small-scale coastal whaling for four communities.

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Australia and Japanese Whaling

In December 2007, the Japanese government announced it was suspending its plan to hunt humpback whales. The move came at least partly in response to heavy pressure by from Australia, which threatened to follow Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic and take legal action against Japanese whalers in international courts if Japanese whalers hunted the humpbacks. The assertive stance by Australia was the result of the new liberal-led government voted into power in November 2007.

In January 2008, the Australian government dispatched a vessel to follow the Japanese whaling fleet, monitor their activities and take photographs that could be used if legal action was taken against the whalers. Aircraft from Australia’s Antarctic division also monitored the whaling fleet.

The Australian government published photos of a mother minke whale and calf being processed by a Japanese whaling vessel. The photos were taken by an Australian customs vessel that was tracking the Japanese whaling fleet. The Japanese government complained.

The New Zealand government has also sharply criticized Japanese whaling operations, calling them “deceptive” for operating under the guise of a scientific operation.

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Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd and Japanese Whaling

A Greenpeace survey found that 90 percent of Japanese never or rarely ate whale meat; 90 percent had no idea their government was hunting whales in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary and once they were aware of it 60 percent disagreed.

Greenpeace activists have harassed Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic. Using Zodiac-style rafts released by Greenpeace's 949-ton Arctic Sunrise, they have boarded whaling boats which have a low deck and have tried to climb on the whaler’s mother ship using ropes and grappling hooks. Some activists have been dropped from helicopters into waters in front of whaling ships.

In June 2008, two Greenpeace Japan activists were arrested for breaking into a delivery truck and stealing whale meat which the activists said was stolen by Japanese crew members of a research whaling ship. The activists took a box that contained 23.5 kilograms of whale meat, worth about $500, which was to be delivered to a crew member of a whaling ship, presumably to eat. An investigation in Japan determined the Japanese crew members had done nothing wrong: that the whale meat they took was from a portion set aside for gifts and they had no plans to sell it.

The two Greenpeace activist were held the maximum 23 days without being charged and were subjected to 12-hour interrogations in which they were handcuffed and tied to their chairs. After they were released they were banned from talking to each other or members of Greenpace. They could not travel, leave their homes for extended periods or talk to journalists. Both said they were followed and received anonymous threats.

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In April 2010 Greenpeace activists in the Netherlands tried to block a shipment of fin whale to Japan.

Sea Shepherd is based in Washington State. Founded in 1977 by Canadian Paul Watson, a member of Greenepeace, it is sometimes categorized as a an eco-terrorist group because of its violent methods. It has been harassing Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic since 2005.

Documents relased by Wikileaks showed that Japan and the United States “mulled steps to thwart” Sea Shepherd including taking away the group’s tax exempt status during a meeting at Japan’s Fisheries Agency in November 2009.

Sea Shepherd Attacks on Japanese Whaling Vessels

In November 2003, activists with the U.S.-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd cut the nets used to catch whales in a bay off the whaling town of Taijicho, Wakiyama. Ten pilot whales were in the net but none managed to escape after the net was cut.

In March 2002, three people on board a Japanese whaling ship---a crew member and two coast guard members--- suffered eye injuries after being splattered with an acidic liquid from bottles thrown aboard the ship by Sea Shepherd activists. The Sea Shepherd got as close as 10 meters to the whaling ship and threw more than 100 bags with a white powder bottles with a liquid---believed to be butyric acid---aboard the whaling ship. Butyric acid produces a long-lasting, pungent smell and can sting the eyes and skin. Some of bags were fired with a mortar-like launching device.

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Sea Shepherd has offered $25,000 for the coordinates of Japan’s whaling fleet in Antarctica. In February 2007, ships from Sea Shepherd clashed with Japanese whaling ships by throwing acid on the decks of the Japanese ships and using motorized inflatable boats to disrupt the whaling ships’ activities.

In February 2008, members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society admitted that they bugged Japanese whaling ships with high-tech tracking devises to track of the vessels in the Antarctic. The bugs were planted on a Japanese harpoon boat when two Sea Shepherd members boarded the vessel a month earlier. With the devices in place the Sea Shepherd was able to sail of Melbourne and track down the Japanese whaling ships in only nine days,

The International Whaling Commission has condemned the Sea Shepherd’s chemical-throwing stunt as “dangerous actions.” It was the first time that the IWC has criticized an anti-whaling group by name. In August 2008, Japanese police obtained arrest warrants and placed three Sea Shepherd activists---two Americans and a Briton---on the Interpol international wanted list for repeatedly interfering with the conduct of Japanese ships in international water

The harrying and blocking tactics used by Sea Shepherd were quite effective. The Japanese whaling vessels returned home with less than half of their intended catch of minke whales. In 2007-2008, Japan suspended whaling operations in January after being followed and harassed by Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd Attacks on Japanese Ships in 2008-2009

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The Sea Shepherd harassed Japanese whaling vessels again in the winter of 2008-2009, preventing the Japanese from whaling on 16 days out the 100 day hunting season. The ship was accused of firing acid, mud and nails at the Japanese vessel. In one attack in December 15 bottles containing a foul-smelling liquid and powder were thrown in the ship.

In a February 2009 attack the Sea Shepherd rammed and damaged the Japanese whaling vessel Yishin Maru No. 3. The Japanese fought back with high-pressure water cannons that injured three Sea Shepherd crew members. Sea Shepherd also accused the Japanese of using concussion grenades, acoustic weapons and throwing lead balls at the Sea Shepherd

Australia has declared an “economic exclusion zone” in waters off the coast of its Antarctic territories, and an Australian court has banned whaling there. Sea Shepherd has said it is enforcing that decision. Japan does nor recognize the exclusion zone and says that its is pursuing whales in international waters.

Sea Shepherd founder, American Paul Watson, told Kyodo in 2009, “We will never stop intervening against their illegal whaling operations and we will never stop harassing them, blockading them and costing them money...I intend to be their ongoing nightmare every year until they stop their horrific and unlawful slaughter of the great whales. Watson commands a ship called the Steve Irwin in honor of the Australia television naturalist.

Again the effort seemed effective. Japan caught 680 whales (679 minke whales and 1 fin whale) in the Antarctic far short of its target of 850.

Sea Shepherd Attacks on Japanese Ships in 2009-2010

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Japanese whalers said they were able to successfully thwart efforts by Sea Shepherd to disrupt their activities in 2009-2010 whaling season. Sea Shepherd activists attacked the Japanese ships with laser lights, paint balls, and other objects. As a countermeasure the Japanese ships carried nets to protect the ship from such objects. The whalers countered Sea Shepherds use of propeller-and-rudder-entagling ropes and a speedy trimaran capable of going 100 kilometers per hour with water cannons and evasive tactics.

When the trimaran---named the Ady Gil---attempted to harass one whaling vessel, the whaling vessel doused its occupants with a water cannon and rammed the trimaran, cutting off its bow. The Ady Gil later sank. Sea Shepherd late filed piracy charges against the Japanese ships, claiming “violence was used on purpose to prevent the Sea Shepherd from carrying out protest actions.”

In December 2009, at the request of the Japanese government, the Dutch government planned to submit a bill to parliament to take the registry away from protest ships such as Sea Shepherd for engaging in “inappropriate behavior.”

Arrest of Whaling Activist in Japan

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One member of Sea Shepherd--- New Zealander Pete Bethune, the skipper of the sunk Andy Gil---road a jet ski across the Antarctic Ocean, climbed aboard a Japanese whale ship and tried to make a citizen’s arrest of the captain of the vessel. When the vessel returned to Japan Bethune was turned ever to Tokyo police. In April 2010, he was indicted on five charges, including trespassing, for boarding a Japanese whaling vessel, and obstruction of business, for throwing a chemical substance onto a whaling ship and injuring a crew members.

Bethune carried bow and arrows on his vessel. He used a launching device to hurl a glass bottle containing butyric acid which broke open and splashed on a 24-year-old crew member, causing minor burns on his face. Bethune claimed that he had no intent of hurting anyone. He told the court the object he threw in the whaling were intentionally aimed away from the Japanese crew and said that butyric acid is no more dangerous than the citric acid found in orange juice. Explaining the reasons behind what he did Bethane said, “Obstruction of business---that was my job down there.”

Bethene was found guilty of injuring a whaler by hurling a rancid butter stink bomb and four other related charges and was given a suspended jail sentence and deported. He pleaded guilty to four of the five charges made against him---obstructing business, damaging property, violating Firearms and Swords Control law and intruding in the ship---and expressed deep remorse for his actions. Bethane agreed to pay for the net he cut with a knife and said he would refrain from engaging in anti-whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean in the future.

After being deported from Japan Bethane was welcomed to Australia as a hero. Sea Shepherd spent a half million dollars on his defense. The group distanced itself somewhat from Bethane because he carried weapons on his boat.

In April 2010, the Japan Coast Guard issued an arrest warrant for Paul Watson, the head of Sea Shepherd, for ordering members of his group to obstruct the operations of Japanese whaling vessels. In June Watson as put on an international wanted list for his alleged crime.

The two Greenpeace activists charged with stealing a 23-kilogram package of whale meat were given suspended sentences.

Greenpeace asserted that whale meat was regularly taken off the ship and sold on the black market. The group claimed that one crew member paid for a new house with money he made from the practice.

Sea Shepherd Obstruction in 2010-2011

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Propeller Fouling Engagement
Shortly after the two Sea Shepherd vessels left port at the beginning of the 2010-2011 whaling season, four countries---Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States---jointly expressed concern over confrontations between Japanese whaling ships and antiwhaling activists in Antarctic waters and called for responsible behavior by the two sides. “We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among both whaling crews and protesters, many of whom are nationals of our countries,” they said in a joint statement. “We call on the masters of all vessels involved in these actions in the Southern Ocean to take responsibility for ensuring that the safety of human life at sea is their highest priority,” they said.

The Sea Shepherd vessels were unrelenting in their harassment of the Japanese whaling vessels, In an incident on February 11, the Japanese whaling fleet was instructed to outrun the Sea Shepherd's two boats. The Nisshin Maru's fastest speed is about 20 kilometers per hour, but the Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker and Gojira vessels can travel at maximum speeds of 30 kph and 44 kph, respectively. Unable to shake off its pursuers, the Nisshin Maru was harassed by the Sea Shepherd with flares and laser beams for a full week.

When the Nisshin Maru suffered a similar assault in January 2010, the Fisheries Agency at one point studied the advisability of suspending whaling operations altogether. However, a protest vessel broke down shortly after the assault, and the whaling ship was able to flee and continue its research whaling until March.

"It's impossible for the Japanese whaling vessels to outrun the antiwhalers, unless the activists have trouble with their vessels," one agency official said. Another official said: "It's a miracle the nation's research whaling was conducted through March as scheduled until last year. Whaling could have been ended at any time."

Government Calls off Whale Hunt Over Sea Shepherd Obstruction

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In February 2011, the Japanese government announced it had ended its “research” whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean a month early, due to concerns over repeated obstructions by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The recall of Japan’s fleet is the first time that environmentalists have succeeded in cutting short the annual hunts since the antiwhaling group began harassing Japanese whalers in 2005. The Japanese whalers had taken only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels. .[Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, February 19, 2011; Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 18, 2011]

Sea Shepherd, which says its tactics are non-violent but aggressive, hurled paint and stink bombs at whaling ships, snared their propellers, and moved its own boats between harpoon ships and their prey. Sea Shepherd vowed to continue its harassment next season if whaling continued. According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry---which runs Japan’s research whaling program---the research whaling voyage which began in December was suspended after the fleet was targeted by Sea Shepherd activists on nine occasions since early last month. On one occasion, a whaling ship was forced to reduce speed because a rope had gotten stuck on its screw. On other occasions a Sea Shepherd vessel fired flares and signal flares onto the Nisshin Maru, the fleet's 8,044-ton mother ship, and bombarded the ship with laser beams to temporarily blind crew members. [Ibid]

The fleet captured about 170 minke whales this season, one-fifth of its target of 850, while it caught only two fin whales despite a 50-catch goal. After observing that Sea Shepherd was preparing to mobilize another boat so it can follow the Japanese ship with two craft at once and concluding that the whaling fleet would not be able to outrun the group's persistent pursuit, the ministry said it decided to halt the mission. "If we continue the whaling mission, we would face fierce obstruction. We can't ensure the crew's safety," a ministry official said. The ministry head Michihiko Kano said, "Apparently our whaling fleet’s location was tracked via satellite....As it has become difficult to ensure the safety of the fleet, we've no choice but to call off research [whaling]." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

In a statement on its Web site, Sea Shepherd, the group said three of its ships would remain in the Southern Ocean to “escort” the Japanese fleet northward. The ministry said its whaling fleet had often been able to simply outrun the environmentalists. It could not do so this year because Sea Shepherd had faster vessels, the government said. Japanese newspapers reported that there had been resistance to cutting short the hunt for fear of appearing to cave in to pressure from foreign environmentalists. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 18, 2011]

The Sea Shepherd docked in Tasmania to cheering crowds. The group said it was “75 percent sure” Japan would not resume whale hunting.

End of Japanese Antarctic Whaling?

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Japanese coast guard
tossing percussion grenades
After the incident a ministry official said, "With the suspension of research whaling, there is no possibility of whaling continuing from next season as it has in the past." Mikoto Hata and Tetsu Okazaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “With this season's research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean called off due to harassment by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Japan's whaling activities in the area may not see another year. In addition to Sea Shepherd's acts of sabotage, low domestic demand for whale meat...also has made the prospect of continuing whaling extremely gloomy, officials said. [Source: Mikoto Hata and Tetsu Okazaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 20, 2011]

Asked at a press conference Friday about the possibility of the country ending research whaling entirely, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano replied: "We can't say anything definite about that." “According to ministry officials, however, discussions have already begun behind the scenes about ending Japan's Antarctic whaling,” the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. One high-ranking ministry official said five alternative scenarios have so far been studied: 1) have the whaling fleet escorted by Japan Coast Guard vessels or others; 2) build new whaling vessels capable of traveling at high speed; 3) replace research whaling with commercial whaling; 4) continue with the current whaling arrangements; or 5) end whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.” [Ibid]

“The first option, whaling accompanied by escort vessels, was discussed in the government from around 2007, but was scrapped because there are no escort vessels that could travel all the way to the Antarctic. The second alternative is "almost impossible," the official said, due to the government's severe fiscal condition.Concerning the third option, Japan sought to bring about an IWC accord to resume commercial whaling at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in June 2010. However, the meeting broke down when the gap could not be bridged between whaling and antiwhaling nations.” [Ibid]

“Sea Shepherd's obstructive activities are not the only factor behind a possible end to Antarctic whaling, it has been suggested. Research whaling is estimated to cost about 6 billion yen every season. Of this sum, about 800 million yen is covered by government subsidies, while the rest is primarily financed by the sale of whale meat. People concerned with whaling operations say they will barely be able to afford to fund the dispatch of the whaling fleet to the Antarctic Ocean next season.” [Ibid]

Japan to Continue Antarctic Whaling with Escort Ships

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In October 2011, AFP reported, Japan announced it will go ahead with its annual whale hunt in Antarctica while boosting security to guard against possible harassment by environmental protesters, the agriculture and fisheries minister said. "Japan will conduct the research whaling while strengthening measures against acts of sabotage, including dispatching Fisheries Agency escort ships," said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano. [Source: AFP, October 4, 2011]

The Japanese whaling ships are to set sail in November 2011. The plan calls for dispatching a Japan Coast Guard vessel to escort the whaling ships. In the past the Japan Coast Guard has stopped short of complying with request to provide ships for such operations.

Since cutting short its 2010-2011 whaling operation, Japan has studied whether the country should continue what it calls "scientific research" for the 2011-2012 season. Kano said at a news conference: "Japan intends to pursue the resumption of commercial whaling. For that purpose, Japan needs to continue research whaling." The founder and head of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Paul Watson, told AFP in July that he would continue harassing Japanese whalers if they returned to the Antarctic sanctuary. In October Sea Shepherd said that the group would return to the Antarctic Ocean with a “stronger anti-whaling fleet in early December 2011 to protect the great whales.' 'We will undertake whatever risks to our lives will be required to stop this invasion of arrogant greed into what is an established sanctuary for the whales,' the group said.

In July 2011 the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that a report by he Fisheries Agency's review committee on research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean for the first time mentioned discontinuation of the research as an option even though the majority opinion stated: "Research whaling is justified on the basis of an international treaty. It should be continued without yielding to heinous interference." A minority opinion. Read: "If we cannot gain understanding on the research whaling in the international community, we should scale it down or halt it." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 2011]

Japanese Whalers take Sea Shepherd to Court

In December 2011, ABC News reported: The Institute for Cetacean Research, as well as the owner of two of Japan's whaling ships, wants an injunction against Sea Shepherd because the anti-whaling group "puts lives at risk". A spokesman for the Institute for Cetacean Research, Gavin Carter, says the court action is designed to improve safety. "What the Institute is doing is saying, look, this is just too dangerous," he said. "Let's take the case to a court and have them set the, if you like, the parameters of the type of action that can be taken. Because clearly putting people on the vessel at risk of being injured or even killed, sabotaging the vessels, maybe taking away their ability to navigate in the Antarctic Ocean, is not safe." [Source: Mark Willacy, ABC News, December 9, 2011]

Preparing to intercept the whaling fleet in the Antarctic, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson says he finds the legal action amusing. He argues the whalers have also shown they are prepared to use confrontational tactics in the Southern Ocean. "I'm not too concerned about it. Sounds like a frivolous lawsuit," he said. "They've shot at us, thrown concussion grenades at us, hit us with water cannon, the long-range physical weapons, and they're now claiming that we're a threat to their safety.

The Institute argues Sea Shepherd's tactics are also hampering what it calls the scientific achievement of Japan's research whaling program. Despite Mr Watson's dismissal of the legal action, Mr Carter believes it could tame the high-seas showdown. "Seattle and Washington state is where Sea Shepherd is based, where Mr Paul Watson is based, so that is why the Seattle court would have jurisdiction," he said. "The institute is obviously seeking an injunction fairly quickly that would restrain Sea Shepherd from undertaking a violent act, that it's been undertaking, and it will undertake again."

Anti-whaling Activists' Use Drone to Track Japan Fleet

In December 2011, AP reported: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society spokesman Paul Watson said the unmanned long-range drone, launched from the anti-whaling ship the Steve Irwin, had located the Japanese fleet and relayed the coordinates back to the activists. Watson said Sea Shepherd, a militant activist group which regularly shadows and harasses the Japanese whalers, had caught up with the fleet at 37 degrees south, 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) above Antarctic waters. [AFP, December 25, 2011]

"This is going to be a long hard pursuit from here to the coast of Antarctica," said Watson. "But thanks to these drones, we now have an advantage we have never had before -- eyes in the sky." Three Japanese security vessels were tailing the Steve Irwin to prevent it from following the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Watson said. But he said the activists had established the upper hand with their two drones, donated by Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security (MOMPS), a private US firm.

Fitted with cameras and detection equipment, the drones have previously been used to combat bluefin tuna poaching off Libya. The Sea Shepherd drones were developed by New Jersey-based MOMPS, which is described as working to enforce international maritime and fisheries rules and "helping to prevent acts of terrorism and piracy worldwide". Watson said: "We can cover hundreds of miles with these drones and they have proven to be valuable assets for this campaign."

While the Steve Irwin was being tailed by the harpooners' security detail he said Sea Shepherd's other vessels the Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot -- which can travel faster than the whalers -- were free to chase the Japanese south. Japan's coastguard has deployed an unspecified number of vessels to protect the whaling ships, and Tokyo has confirmed it will use some of the public funds earmarked for tsunami reconstruction to boost security for the hunt. Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Netherlands issued a joint statement earlier this month expressing their "disappointment" at the annual hunt and warning against violent encounters.

Confrontation Between Shepherd and Japanese Whaler in 2012

In December 2012, Kyodo reported: Coast guards will man Japanese vessels conducting ''research'' whaling in the Antarctic Ocean this winter in response to increasingly violent obstruction of their recent activities by environmental groups, the Japan Coast Guard said. ''We have decided to beef up security as never before,'' said a coast guard official, while he refrained from giving specifics such as how many guards will board the vessels and what kind of equipment they will carry with them. [Source: Kyodo, December 5, 2011]

In January AP reported: Environmentalists say three anti-whaling activists have boarded a Japanese vessel as part of a campaign to stop whale hunting in Antarctic waters. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said in a statement that three Australian men boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 in early morning darkness on Sunday as the Japanese vessel tailed the conservation group's flagship the Steve Irwin off southwest Australia. A Sea Shepherd activist boarded the same Japanese ship in 2010. He spent five months in a Japanese jail before being convicted of an array of offenses and deported. [Source: AP, January 8, 2012]

In February, Kyodo reported: Sea Shepherd activists obstructed Japan's so-called research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, hurling a rope at a whaling ship and twisting it around the ship's propeller, the Japanese Fisheries Agency said. The activists also threw bottles containing butyric acid and hurled smoke candles at the Yushin Maru No. 2 during the incident which started at 7:20 a.m. and lasted for about two hours, the agency said. The ship slowed down consequently, although none of its crew was injured, according to the agency. The ship counteracted the Sea Shepherd actions by spraying water and issuing warnings, it added. [Source: Kyodo, Monday, Feb. 13, 2012]

Brigette Bardot Anti-Whaling Boat Damaged by Wave

In December 2011, AP reported: "The anti-whaling vessel has been damaged by a wave while chasing the Japanese whaling fleet off Antarctica. A conservationist group's boat that was chasing a Japanese whaling vessel off Antarctica was seriously damaged by a giant wave on Thursday, a major setback in the group's ongoing and sometimes violent battle with Japan's whaling fleet, the activists said. [Source: Associated Press, December 29, 2011]

The wave cracked the hull and severely damaged one of the pontoons on the Brigitte Bardot, a scout vessel for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is chasing the whaling fleet in the hopes of interrupting Japan's annual hunt.None of the boat's 10 crew were hurt, and the vessel was in no danger of sinking in the icy waters, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said. "It's not going to stop our attempt, but it is a setback because it takes out one of our boats," Watson said by phone from his vessel, the Steve Irwin.

The Brigitte Bardot was chasing the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru in 20-foot (6-metre) swells when the rogue wave smashed into the port side of the vessel, cracking the hull, Watson said. The pontoon was in danger of breaking off, but the boat was not taking on any water, he said. "The captain there assures me that everything will be fine by the time we reach them," Watson said.

The Steve Irwin, named after the late Australian crocodile hunter, was making its way through rough seas toward the Brigitte Bardot and was about 12 hours away by Thursday afternoon, Watson said. Once there, the Steve Irwin will escort the stricken boat 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) to Fremantle, Western Australia, for repairs, and immediately return to the waters off Antarctica to continue chasing the whalers. Meanwhile, the group's third vessel, the Bob Barker, was left to hunt the whaling fleet by itself.

Sea Shepherd Blamed as Japan Whale Catch Falls Short Again in 2012

In March 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The Japanese fleet caught a total of 267 whales in the latest season of the country's research whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean, the Fisheries Agency said. This was well below the approximately 900 whales the whalers were aiming to catch. Of the total, up from 172 in the previous season, 266 were minke whales and one was a fin whale, the agency said. Females accounted for 168 of the total, of which 107 were adults and 92.5 percent were pregnant, the agency noted, indicating the breeding season for Antarctic whales has been favorable. [Source: Jiji Press, April 1, 2012]

Harumi Ozawa of AFP wrote: Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet has killed less than a third of the animals it planned to because of sabotage by activists, the Japan's Fisheries Agency said at the end of the season's hunt. "The catch was smaller than planned due to factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists," an agency official said. "There were definitely sabotage campaigns behind the figure." [Source: Harumi Ozawa, AFP, March 9, 2012]

Militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd had pursued the Japanese fleet for much of the season. The group hurled stink bombs at the boats and used ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges which saw the whalers retaliate with water cannon. Sea Shepherd claimed the drastic cut in the harpooners' haul was a victory for them. "It's been a very successful campaign for us," captain Paul Watson told AFP on Friday. "We chased them for three months, 17,000 miles (27,000 kilometres). They really didn't have much time to catch whales in all that time."

The group vowed to chase the Japanese fleet if it returns to southern waters next season. "The Japanese were definitely much more aggressive," Watson said from Melbourne, where his ship is now docked. "We had 12 confrontations with the Steve Irwin but no-one was injured on either side. They used water cannons, and they threw concussion grenades at us, and bamboo spears and grappling hooks and we hit them back with stink bombs and smoke bombs."

Interpol Seeks Arrest of Sea Shepherd Leader

In September 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Interpol has issued a notice at Japan's request to seek cooperation from member countries in arresting Paul Watson, leader of the antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd, according to the Japan Coast Guard. The "Red Notice" asks member countries to help Interpol locate Watson with the aim of arresting him eventually. Interpol had previously issued a more lenient "Blue Notice" for Watson, seeking information about him from member countries. [Source: Jiji Press, September 16, 2012]

Image Sources: Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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