Activists Bring an Early End to Japanese Whale Hunt

21 February 2011

The Japanese government has suspended its whaling fleet's 2011 Antarctic Ocean hunt, citing the "obstructionist activities" of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental group that is well known for aggressively disrupting the activities of whaling ships.

Japan's harpoon ships were called home on 18 February, a month before the end of the usual season, "to ensure the safety of crew members' lives, of assets and of the research fleet" according to Japan's farm and fisheries minister, Michihiko Kano.

Sea Shepherd, an international non-governmental organisation, has been chasing the whaling fleet since the end of December. The group says that in this time it managed to contain two of the three Japanese harpoon ships for the past several weeks, damaged the propeller of another ship, and blockaded the factory ship from loading many harpooned whales.

Japan has made formal complaints to the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand regarding their inaction against the anti-whaling group because Sea Shepherd's vessels are all registered and docked within the three nations.  But Australia - who launched a lawsuit against Japan at the International Court of Justice on the legality of Japan's whaling (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 11 June 2010) - and New Zealand, have made their opinions clear that they hope this signals an end to Japan's whaling for good.

"I'm glad this season is over," said Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke. "Australia doesn't believe there should ever be another whaling season again."

The Japanese exploit a loophole under the International Whaling Commission agreement that allows for whaling to be conducted on the grounds of research of their fish supply in the Southeast Sea. Under the research exception, excess whale meat can be sold for consumption (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 25 June 2010).

Whale meat sales fund the Japanese hunt and at the end of December, when the fleet left harbour, whale meat stockpiles were close to their highest levels ever, and prices were down 66 cents per kilo from the previous year, signalling a major drop in demand. Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan said the price drop "has proved incorrect that Japan's commercial whaling, which Japan calls research whaling, makes business sense and is sustainable."

So far this year, the Japanese fleet has killed 172 whales, drastically short of their 900 whale target - a record low. Sea Shepherd representatives say they are thrilled by their success, but will continue to shadow the Japanese fleet. "We will stay with the Japanese ships until they return north and make sure that they're out of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary" said Sea Shepherd group founder and captain, Paul Watson.

ICTSD Reporting; "Facing High Seas Drama, Japan Suspends Annual Whale Hunt", NPR, 16 February 2011; "Japan brings home embattled whaling fleet", AFP, 18 February 2011; "Japan urges international action against Sea Shepherd", BBC, 18 February 2011; "Activists win; whale hunt halts in Antarctic", THE JAPAN TIMES, 16 February 2011; "Protests halt Japan's whaling season", NIKKEI, 18 February 2011; "Insight: The whalers have been shut down!", ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, 16 February 2011; "Japan ends whale hunt after confrontations", UPI ASIA, 18 February 2011.

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