Jeremy Bloom of our sister site Red, Green, and Blue reported yesterday on Japanese whalers’ apparent retreat in the middle of this year’s whaling season, and shared the news here on Planetsave as well.
It is still unclear if the hunting season is finished or only suspended, but there is strong indication that it is finished.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ships have cause all sorts of problems for the whalers and prevented them from catching anything close to their quota this year. They’ve reportedly caught less than 100 of their 1000-whale quota about halfway through the season (which is supposed to end in mid-March) and Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports that it has blocked “all whaling operations since February 9th and… 75% of all whaling operations for the month of January.” (See some Sea Shepherd Conservation Society “No Compromise” action from late January in the video below.)
Is Japan’s Withdrawal Actually Due to Economic Reasons?
Andy Sharp of The Diplomat, writing on this story, also contends that there just isn’t the demand for the whale meat that there used to be. Spending so much money for “whaling research,” which is really just a ploy to hunt whales for their meat, isn’t worth it these days. (Note that while whaling is supposedly allowed only for research purposes, it is stipulated that “resources from research not be wasted,” and whale meat is ‘legally’ sold on the market despite commercial whaling being illegal since 1986 under these loopholes.) The stockpile of frozen whale meat was 5,093 tons in December, almost a record high. This figure has risen pretty continuously over the last 10 or so years, from 1,453 tons in 1999. Perhaps Japan is noting this more seriously now and is at least partially calling off this year’s hunt because of that, but blaming it on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“The Japanese government blames Sea Shepherd for the (possibility of) bringing the fleet home early, but what it actually means is that it has proved incorrect that Japan’s commercial whaling, which Japan calls research whaling, makes business sense and is sustainable,” Greenpeace Japan Secretary General Junichi Sato said.
Of course, if this is the case, one has to wonder if all the activism, international awareness-raising, political pressure, legal battles, and recent semi-forced admission that Japanese government officials were illegally accepting gifts of whale meat, is part of what is driving demand down.
Direct Action Cannot be Replaced
However, even if economic factors such as these are part of the reason for the withdrawal, it seems that one critical issue that Japanese whalers can’t even meet their quotas, or get close to them, due to the Sea Shepherds’ actions. And that is why the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society directed its efforts towards this form of activism after years of corrupt international whaling bodies making their decisions and quotas not based on science but on politics and nations unwilling to even enforce the lenient whaling rules they set. Direct action cannot be replaced, bottom line.
“We will not allow the Japanese whalers to kill another whale down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” said Captain Paul Watson
And while they may not actually be able to achieve a 0% whaling success rate, this clearly seems to be the effort that is making the difference.
No Confirmation Whaling Season is Over Yet
Again, we don’t have final confirmation that the whaling season is finished yet. “We don’t have a clear answer yet. At this point we don’t have any statement from the Japanese government to us that this season of whaling is at an end,” Australia’s Environment Minister Tony Burke told reporters.
“The harpoon vessels remain in the Ross Sea and we intend to stay here until they leave,” captain Paul Watson said. ‘We don’t know if this suspension is permanent. Two weeks or two days, we don’t know.’
“The Nisshin Maru (whaling fleet mother ship) has been chased by Sea Shepherd vessels since Feb. 10 and thus the fleet suspended whaling since then,” said Tatsuya Nakaoku of the Whaling Section of the Fisheries Agency’s Far Seas Fisheries Division. “We are considering several options (to deal with the current situation), but nothing has been decided.”
Chilean Government Supporting Illegal Anti-Whaling Efforts as Well
“Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Bob Barker is in contact with the Chilean Navy to report the movements of the whaling ship to Chile,” the Sea Shepherd reports. “The Chilean government is closely monitoring the movements of the Nisshin Maru, and has made it clear to the Japanese whalers that whaling and the transportation of whale meat through Chilean waters is illegal. For now, the Steve Irwin and the Gojira will remain in the Ross Sea to await the movements of the whalers.” With not many nations actually willing to protect their waters from whaling, Chile’s efforts here are noteworthy and perhaps another reason why Japanese whalers are finding it difficult to meet their quotas like they did in the past. Kudos to Chile and its courageous help.
The End of This Whaling Season Wouldn’t Mean Victory Yet
“In the view of the Australian government, it’s not time to celebrate until we get a decision from Japan that they are stopping whaling for good,” Burke noted.
“Australia in May launched legal action with the International Court of Justice at the Hague to stop Japan’s research whaling in the Antarctic,” The Japan Times reports. If direct action from the Sea Shepherd Society isn’t enough, maybe legal action like this is what will finally tip the scales on the side of the whales.
While we all await more info from Japan, the current development seems like a positive sign and some of us are hopeful this is the beginning of the end.
“Commercial whaling does not belong in the 21st century,” said Josh Reichert, managing director of the US-based Pew Environment Group.
“We hope that the removal of the fleet marks the end of all whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, and that Japan confirms this exit is permanent at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in July.”
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Photo Credit: guano