Feature: Earth Week

Japanese Whalers Set to Hunt Unimpeded in the Southern Ocean?

Author: Francis Broderick
Published: January 09, 2013 at 10:03 am

The commercial whaling moratorium was introduced in 1982 by the International Whaling Commission, finally ending the hunts that pushed many species of whale to the edge of extinction. Japan, however, lodged an official objection to the move before withdrawing it in 1987. Under the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment, the United States threatened to limit Japan’s fishing quota in its territorial waters, leaving the Japanese with little option other than compliance.

Since then however, Japan has launched a program of scientific whaling for research purposes. Officially, the aim of this program is establishing the size and dynamics of whale populations, primarily in Antarctica. Several national governments including Australia have been supported by anti-whaling organisations such as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd in their claim that this ‘research’ is a cover for the banned practice of commercial whaling.

They have also claimed that the samples can be acquired by non-lethal means while the amount of whales killed is excessively large. The total amount of whales targeted by the research vessels varies from year to year, but in 2010, a goal of 935 was set. As in previous years, the scientific hunt was interrupted by Sea Shepherd, an environmental organisation labelled “eco-terrorists” by the Japanese. As a result, only 506 whales were killed in the Antarctic. This is a huge reduction in the annual haul when compared to previous years – statistics show that Japan killed 1,004 whales in 2009 and 912 in 2008.

It has now emerged that Sea Shepherd’s controversial founder and executive director, Paul Watson, has resigned from the organization as a result of a US federal court injunction against him and the activities of his group. Aggressive clashes between Sea Shepherd vessels and the Japanese whaling fleet have occurred frequently over the past few years, causing immense controversy. Both sides accuse each other of ramming vessels and throwing projectiles onto each other’s decks. Japanese whaling vessels have alleged that butyric acid was thrown at them by the activists, while Paul Watson claims to have been shot in the chest by the Japanese. He was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time.

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