Yuzuru Oshihara/Greenpeace Japan/AP
A Greenpeace banner reading: "1.2 billion yen of tax money for whaling?"

Greenpeace Activists Plan to Clash With Japanese Whale Hunters

November 19, 2008 01:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The flagship of Japan’s controversial whaling fleet left for the Antarctic on Monday, as members of Greenpeace planned to interrupt the ship’s annual research expedition.

Japanese Fleet Leaves Port

According to the environmental activist group Greenpeace, the Nisshin Maru left the Innoshima port near Hiroshima on Monday. The rest of the fleet is scheduled to leave from another port later this month.

The Japanese government, in order to avoid protests, would not confirm that the vessel had left and decided not to hold a departure ceremony to see the boat off. But Greenpeace members were there at the port, with a banner that read, “Whaling on Trial.”

Last year, protesters from the animal rights organization, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, caused the Japanese fleet to return home early. A Sea Shepherd vessel collided twice with a whaling ship, and activists were also accused of boarding a whaling vessel and unloading acid, injuring two crew members. Two of the protesters were detained by the Japanese government, which accused Sea Shepherd of engaging in an “act of piracy.”

Whale meat has been a popular delicacy in Japan for centuries, although demand has been declining in recent years.

Opinion & Analysis: The debate over whaling

Japan argues that its annual whale hunts yield important scientific data on whale populations that cannot be gathered through nonlethal means. Opponents, however, say that the research expeditions are covers for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.

The issue has attracted global attention. Australia announced on Monday that in order to show Japan that lethal animal research is unnecessary, it will spend $3.87 million in nonlethal whale research that will involve aerial surveys, satellite tags and genetic studies.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says on its Web site that it does not think Australia’s initiative will be effective in stopping Japan from conducting its expeditions.

“Japan is not interested in research,” said Captain Paul Watson of the ship Steve Irwin, which is planning to meet the whaling fleet somewhere off the Antarctic coast in mid-December. "We all know that this whale hunt has absolutely nothing to do with research. It’s about killing whales for meat to send to market in Japan. It’s a sham, a façade, in short it is a whale of a lie. They will never participate in non-lethal research for the simple reason there is no profit in it."

Even reality television has entered the debate. Animal Planet started airing the series Whale Wars on Nov. 7, a seven-part weekly television series that illustrates the “trials and tribulations” of the Sea Shepherd’s mission to disrupt Japan’s whaling hunts during 2007-2008. “This year’s campaign was particularly eventful with multiple engagements, capsizing, possible hostage taking and alleged shooting, and Animal Planet crews were onboard to document it as it unfolded,” Animal Planet says on its Web site.

The show, like the debate over whale hunting, has attracted controversy, in addition to glowing reviews. The Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan, which operates whaling research vessels, says that the program supports the work of eco-terrorists and deceives viewers by airing staged events that are advertised as reality television.

Related Topics: Saving the whales

Japan is not the only country where whale meat has become an issue. In Iceland, the growing popularity of whale meat items on restaurant menus, such as sashimi made out of minke whale, has heightened the debate over the ethics of whaling. Conservationists continue their effort to better protect the species, however. In July, activists said that ending a poorly enforced 22-year ban on commercial whaling instituted in 1986 would lead to tighter controls and monitoring to better protect the species. But the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported in August that the hunting regulations may have saved several whale varieties from extinction, including large whales such as the humpback, minke and the southern right whale. “For the large whales the picture looks guardedly optimistic,” Randall Reeves, chair of the cetacean specialist group of the IUCN, told Reuters.

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