On January 29th, we have a crew meeting on the Sea Shepherd ship, the M/Y Steve Irwin, and the officers notify us that they believe we are close to the fleet. The final battle in southern ocean whaling could be near. After five years of anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic waters, three confrontations this year with whalers, it could finally all end. The Sea Shepherds’ goal has been to stop the “mother ship” of the Japanese whaling fleet which would disable the entire fleet from operating. We now believe we are closing in on our target.
But as we near to the possible end of this whale war, news comes in that the war in the southern ocean could end through other means — and the whaling fleet could emerge as the victor. Information leaks that there have been secret meetings by six members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), including the United States, Australia and Japan. The purpose of the meetings are to settle the issue of the legality the fleet’s whaling activities and bring Japan back into the fold of international law.
If the present talks are realized, there would be a deal struck where Japan would be allowed to commercially kill whales, both coastally in Japan and in the North Pacific. Right now, Japan is attempting to catch 935 Minke whales and 50 Fin whales in the southern oceans. But this new possible deal would allow the Japanese whaling fleet to catch at a higher level than their present quota. The deal would mean that Japan would phase out their hunt in the Antarctic waters over the next five years by twenty percent per year.
It’s a strange deal, because the fleet has been catching less than its stated quota for two years already. They have only been reaching 50 – 60 per cent of their quota, and that is already the cause of global protest. The IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling, established in 1986, has not been lifted. So allowing commercial hunting by Japan in this new deal would make the 1986 ban effectively moot. Such a deal would also then recognize that the so-called “research” hunt that Japan claims to have been running over the last eight years as a commercial one, with no repercussions.
Which leads to the question: why is environmental law established if it can just be turned upside down when it becomes inconvenient for one country? How is it that there is no enforcement or repercussion towards those that kill whales illegally? Why is it that the real eco-terrorists here, the whalers, are potentially going to be given carte-blanche to continue their activities?
So the southern ocean battle for the whales may end soon — just not in the way the Sea Shepherd activists had hoped for. Will this war ever end? It seemed earlier this year as if it might, but now, perhaps not, if this deal goes through. Regardless, Sea Shepherd will continue their fight for the whales, just as they have for 30 years. They will continue in the North Pacific and in the waters of Japan if they have to.
But when we’ve come so close to winning this war for the whales, it’s hard to swallow for me that things have only come full circle, instead of to a sensible conclusion. My parents, co-founders of Greenpeace, began the fight for the whales in the North Pacific by targeting Russian and Japanese whalers. We believed we’d won the war in 1986 with the IWC ban, but it simply began again under the guise of “research” by Japan. The 21st-century activists believed we were close to finishing this war for good. But it could just be the beginning of another chapter.
Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.