Sea Shepherd Won't Chase Japanese Whalers this Year
Sea Shepherd has accomplished something absolutely remarkable over the last 12 years.
In 2005, we set out to tackle the world’s largest and most destructive whaling fleet. We were told it was impossible by some governments and a few NGOs.
Hardly anyone even knew about Japan’s illegal slaughter in the Southern Ocean. It was out of sight and out of mind. They were targeting 1,035 whales a year including a yearly quota of 50 endangered Humpbacks and 50 endangered Fin whales.
We had few resources, but we took our one battered and slow vessel, the Farley Mowat, and we chased the whalers across the Southern Ocean, catching them only for a few hours at a time until they sped away from us.
In 2006, we were able to purchase the Steve Irwin, and the tables began to turn as each year we became stronger and more effective. We brought in the Bob Barker, the Sam Simon, the Brigitte Bardot and the Ocean Warrior.
Sea Shepherd was relentless in reducing the yearly quotas significantly, and in 2012/2013 the Japanese whalers went home with only about 10 percent of their intended kills. We did this at the same time the U.S. Federal Court put significant legal obstacles in our path.
The results speak for themselves. Over 6,000 whales saved. Not a single endangered Humpback killed and only 10 endangered Fin whales killed in a decade where 500 were slated to die. In addition, the Japanese whalers lost tens of millions of dollars.
We exposed Japan’s illegal activities to the world with our TV show Whale Wars and our documentation.
We helped to push Australia into taking Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where their operations were ruled to be unlawful. Japan was ordered by the ICJ to cease and desist.
They did so for a year and then returned with a new program (also illegal) that reduced their bogus self-allocated kill quota to 333 each year. This means that since 2015 another 1,400 whales were spared the lethal harpoons. This means that 702 whales will continue to be saved every year.
Unfortunately, in an effort to prevent Sea Shepherd interventions, they doubled their killing grounds which means that they have more time and more area to kill their lowered quota.
Despite that, Sea Shepherd sent the Steve Irwin and the Ocean Warrior in pursuit of the whalers in 2016/2017, and although it took them longer and cost them much more, the Japanese whalers managed to get their quota.
What we discovered is that 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. During Operation Nemesis, the Sea Shepherd ships did get close and our helicopter even managed to get evidence of their illegal whaling operations, but we could not physically close the gap. We cannot compete with their military-grade technology.
This year 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. Sea Shepherd however is limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
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? If something is not working the only recourse is to look for a better plan, because when a plan no longer works, the only alternative is an improved course of action.
We need to formulate this new plan, and we will.
We will not be sending ships to the Southern Ocean this year, but are not abandoning the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We need to cultivate the resources, the tactics and the ability to significantly shut down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet.
In the meantime, 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 our charitable status.
What Sea Shepherd has accomplished over the last 12 years demonstrates what people of passion can accomplish with few resources despite heavy multi-government opposition.
The Japanese whalers have been exposed, humiliated and most importantly have been denied thousands of lives that we have spared from their deadly harpoons. Thousands of whales are now swimming and reproducing, that would now be dead if not for our interventions.
And 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. Our efforts have been so significant that one Japanese official said that Japan has two enemies – China and Sea Shepherd!
Sea Shepherd’s continuing efforts to go after and shut down whalers will continue, and not only against Japanese whaling, but also against Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic whaling. This is what we have been doing for 40 years. We will never quit until the abomination of whaling is abolished forever by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
Sea Shepherd is doing incredible things on the Ocean with limited resources, in addition to tackling illegal whaling activities. The endangered Vaquita would now be extinct if not for our intervention. 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. 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.
Sea Shepherd is guided by this one reality: If the Ocean dies, we die!
Paul Watson is Founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.