Victory for the Sea Shepherd: Japan Cuts Short Whaling Season

Activists halt whale slaughter in Southern Ocean and prevent hunters from meeting quota

For years, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been giving new meaning to the word activism, garnering both fame and controversy with its agressive disruption of Japanese whaling activities. This week, Sea Shepherd’s direct-action tactics payed off in a tremendous way.

First, some background: Commercial whaling is currently illegal, but the ban allows whale-hunting for scientific purposes. Japan uses this loophole to continue its commercial harvest, killing hundreds of whales each year for “research” and selling their meat on the open market.

This year, in an unprecedented decision, the Japanese fleets have retreated halfway through the whaling season, having taken less than 20 percent of their annual quota of 1,000 whales. At first, the suspension was said to be temporary, but now it’s official. The Japanese government has recalled the whaling fleet, due to harassment by Sea Shepherd activists. Japan’s agriculture minister, Michihiko Kano, told reporters the hunt had been called off because of safety concerns:

“We had no choice but to end the season to ensure the safety of lives, assets and our ships.”

But the Sea Shepherds could not have posed a serious physical threat to the whalers. The activists use strategies that are extreme but nonviolent. In the most recent case, they were obstructing the stern of a factory ship to prevent it from hauling whales onboard. As Ecorazzi points out,

…it’s worth noting that the Sea Shepherd’s tactics have not changed in the seven years they’ve been harassing the Japanese whaling fleet. So it’s mighty interesting that safety would suddenly force an early return — an unprecedented decision, save a need for repair — in the time that Japan has been hunting whales.

The truth is that the whaling fleet was simply unable to operate. Sea Shepherd has been enforcing an unofficial suspension of whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary for several weeks. Captain Paul Watson claims that his crews have blocked all whaling operations since February 9 and 75 percent of operations for the month of January.

Economics was probably another factor in the whaling fleet’s withdrawal. Apparently, the demand for whale meat is declining, and killing the animals may not be worth the trouble. Of course, Japan can’t publicly say that without admitting that scientific research is not the real motive for its whaling.

The halt of whaling in the Southern Ocean is a major victory for the activists that have fought relentlessly to stop the slaughter. In an update on the Sea Shepherd web site, Paul Watson said,

“I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations including Japan and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary.”