Activists End Japan’s Annual Whale Hunt

February 25, 2011 – Jen Noelken

American based activist group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society put an end to this years annual Japanese whale hunt.  Friday February 18, Japanese Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano announced the decision to prematurely abort the whale hunt.  Minister Kano cited the decision was do to badgering by Sea Shepherd vessels.  The decision to halt is a first for Japanese whalers.

For years Japan has been targeted for whaling mission despite the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.  Many believe Japan uses a loophole in the ban conducting whaling for “whale research.”  Whale research is the only approved method of whaling.  Opposition of the country’s whaling practices claim whale meat is later sold in markets.  They go on to argue if whale meat is sold in markets, than whaling is done not for research, but for profit. 

Japan has been considered an international disgrace for their whale missions.  In 2010, “Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the world court in The Hague.”  Australia wants Japan to cease Southern Ocean scientific whaling.  The court is expected to decide by 2013 (or later).

This year’s mission aimed to cull 850 minke whales in Antarctic waters.  The season, which was scheduled to end mid-March, was lead by a Japanese fleet of four vessels consisting of around 180 crewmen.  After the initial decision to halt the mission, Japan was unsure of the total number of caught whales.  As of February 20, estimates placed the number of killed whales at 172, about a fifth of the mission’s target number.

Founded in 1977, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has shadowed Japan’s whaling fleet for the past seven years.  Japanese official’s state this year the Sea Shepherd group became more aggressive.  They claim the group harassed Japan whaling ships, such as the Nisshin Maru, by throwing old, rotting butter on board, throwing a rope which lodged in one of the ship’s propellers and using tactics like flare guns.  Officials say they fear for the crew’s safety.  Japan’s Fisheries Agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku stated the Sea Shepherd vessels continue to pursue the Nisshin Maru engaging in obstructive obstacles.  Nakaoku said despite the decision to abort the whale mission, crew safety cannot be guaranteed.

Sea Shepherd supporters celebrate a victory of the halted whaling mission.  Paul Watson, head of Sea Shepherd and captain of the Steve Irwin (one of Sea Shepherd’s pursuing vessels), exclaimed this is the groups best year to date.  Watson defended the group’s actions saying they are aggressive, but not violent.  In seven years no one has received serious injury.  He goes on to state “the group’s actions are not dangerous and there is no reason for the whalers to be concerned for their safety.”

New Zealand anti-whaling activist and Sea Shepherd member Pete Bethune seconds Watson’s thinking.  Bethune is well known for his 2010 altercation in which his vessel and a Japanese whaling ship, the Ady Gil, collided.  After climbing aboard the whaling ship with intent to make a citizen’s arrest, Bethune was arrested and detained for five months in Japan for the alleged attempted murder of the Ady Gil’s six crew members.  Bethune later received a suspended sentence for obstructing the whalers and was deported.  The activist thinks Japan’s decision to end its whale hunt vindicates the actions of anti-whaling campaigners.  He said Sea Shepherd’s excellent campaign, along with direct action was effective in reducing the kill tally.

Global donations contribute to the organizations ability to gain more equipment, more vessels and more manpower.  However, over the past several years the group has become more criticized.  Critics of Sea Shepherd think the group is taking anti-whaling activism to extremes with new tactics.  Recently, an Animal Planet reality show “Whale Wars” featured Sea Shepherd, glorifying their missions and tactics. 

Despite criticism on both sides of the water, Paul Watson claimed he saved more whales than those killed.  “Confrontation is something we are very used to now.  Every year we are getting stronger.”

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