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Japan v the whales

G'day. This is Dale Mill's debut for Webdiary. The photos, by Davison, are published with kind permission from Greenpeace.

by Dale Mills

The latest conflict between protesters and Japanese whaling vessels occurred on January 15 when a grenade-tipped harpoon was fired near Greenpeace activists off Mawson Coast, part of the Australian Antarctic Territory.


The incident occurred as Japan pursues its policy of ‘scientific research’ by hunting minke whales. Critics, including Greenpeace, say that no new knowledge is gained by killing whales, and that the ‘scientific research’ is an excuse for ordinary commerical whaling, with the whale meat being sold at high prices in Japanese restaurants. This seems to be implicitly acknowledged by the Japanese themsevles, with government websites citing the number of minke whales in existance as a justification for their policies, rather than the need for accumulating scientific knowledge.

The harpoon from a Japanese whaling ship landed just ahead of a Greenpeace inflatable, killing its target. Canadian activist Texas Joe Constantine became entangled in the harpoon line and was thrown into the bloodied waters near to the freshly killed minke whale. The incident occurred in polar waters about 2000 nautical miles south-west of the Australian city of Perth.

Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said that despite the man falling into icy waters, he was wearing a polar survival suit and was unharmed.

Before this happened, we had prevented them from killing this whale for about an hour, said Rattenbury. "I think tensions have been rising across the last few weeks and the fleet is frustrated at not getting clear shots at their targets [because of our intervention]."

At the time of writing, the Greenpeace campaign is in its 25th day of direct contact with the whaling fleet. This is seen as an enormous success, as in previous campaigns the larger and faster Japanese ships have been able to outrun protest ships after a few days.


The harpooning incident on January 15 follows an earlier ramming by the whaling fleet. According to the Greenpeace International website, its ship Arctic Sunrise was deliberately rammed and damaged by the factory ship of the Japanese whaling fleet, Nisshin Maru, on 8 January 2006. The Nisshin Maru is at least twice as long and six times heavier than the Arctic Sunrise.

Rattenbury said, "There is no way to describe this as anything but a deliberate ramming which placed the safety of our ship and the lives of our crew in severe danger." The ramming was in apparent retaliation for the painting of slogans on the side of the Japanese ship. As the protesters were painting graffiti from small inflatables, no danger was posed to the large Japanese ship. However, the Nisshin Maru turned hard and then sailed for over half a mile at, and then hitting, the Greenpeace vessel.

This seemed to be an escalation of Japanese aggression following yet another incident on December 21 when the Japanese whaling vessel, the Kyo Maru, collided with the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza. The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research dismissed the incident as minor, saying that "the same thing occurred five years ago when in 1999 another collision occurred between Japan's research vessels and a Greenpeace vessel".

However, the benign wording of the Institute’s statement disguises the fact that the 1999 collision was later found to be the fault of the Japanese, and was officially record as such in the Lloyd's Maritime database.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a network of marine reserves or parks covering 40% of the world's oceans in order to protect ocean life from further destruction so as to allow the world’s oceans to recover from past exploitation.

Another environmentalist group, Sea Shepherd, also with a presence in the area where Japan is whaling announced that it will escalate its campaign against the Japanese fleet. Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, demanded on January 13 that the Australian and New Zealand governments take legal action to stop Japan's ‘scientific’ whale haul. If legal action were taken, he said, Sea Shepherd would withdraw from the Antarctic waters. Watson has been involved in the sinking of eight whaling ships over the past 30 years and attempted to foul the propellers of one of the Japanese whaling ships, Nisshin Maru, last week.

Watson has accused the Australian and New Zealand governments of ‘kissing the rear end’ of Japan, which he says is violating international law, including the laws of the International Whaling Commission, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Antarctic Treaty. This has been denied by the Japanese government.

Although the official English-language website of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains silent on confrontations occurring at the other end of the world, it can’t be anything but concerned over a public opinion backlash.

Japan receives on-going criticism over politicians visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead, including war criminals from World War II. Although not a dominant world issue, such visits create enormous tension in China, which is becoming economically more important to the Japanese economy. Some observers note that the Chinese government is all too willing to inflame tensions with Japan as a way of deflecting domestic dissatisfaction with the Chinese Community Party’s continuing monopoly of political power. Japan is also keen to cultivate its international image as Tokyo is being upstaged as an important regional city by the upcoming Beijing Olympics in 2008 and as Japan is halfway through its project to quadruple foreign direct investment to 26.4 trillion yen in the 10-year period 2001-2011.

The Greenpeace vessels currently dogging the Japanese whaling fleet include 70 crew from 19 countries, including the UK, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Ghana, Russia, Norway, Denmark, USA, France, Italy, Japan, Ireland, India, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Austria and Argentina.

A weblog (with photos and video) of crew members on board ships belonging to Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd recording their contact with the Japanese whaling fleet can be found at

http://weblog.greenpeace.org/oceandefenders and



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I believe that Greenpeace

I believe that Greenpeace does a good job of highlighting and protesting environmental issues, but in reality, the organisations and governments that they target are not affected by this at all (one of the reasons that they are the preferred choice of protester for Governments, including our own). I would rather have Capt. Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society out there on the high seas protesting and actually shutting down the operations of offenders, thereby saving whales.

For this reason, I have decided to cease donating to Greenpeace and give to Sea Shepherd instead. I had not heard much of SSCS before but am now aware that they have started an Australian chapter of the Society.

The ABC had a broadcast on the whaling issue and I thought that Ian Campbell was left looking pretty impotent and reduced to childish personal attack.

The reality is that the Australian Government can take legal action against the Japanese whalers. Diplomacy alone is not enough to prevent our whales being slaughtered. Taking Japan to the International Court of Justice would let Japan know Australia is serious about protecting its whales and whale-watching industries.

From an article in The

From an article in The American Jurist, November 1st. 2004 and reprinted on the SSCS website


21st Century Pirates
Sea Shepherd saves hundreds of thousands of creatures of the sea
By Andrea Gordon

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sunk, rammed and blocked pirate fishing and whaling vessels for more than 25 years. In the process, it has saved hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, dolphins and fish without harming any humans. Hands down, Sea Shepherd's record beats almost any government land or sea law enforcement agency.

In 1979 and 1980, Sea Shepherd drew international attention when it rammed and destroyed the pirate whaling ship, Sierra. The Sierra had violated International Whaling Commission regulations for over ten years without any government intervention. Operating under the tight budget of a nonprofit organization, Sea Shepherd succeeded when wealthy and powerful governments failed to enforce international laws.

How can a non-profit organization legally interfere with fishing and sink pirate whaling ships? Sea Shepherd operates under the United Nations World Charter for Nature, which permits enforcement by individuals and NGO's.

In 1995, a Canadian court acquitted Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, of criminal charges when the court agreed his intervention was legal. Although Captain Watson has been arrested, he has never been convicted of a crime because, he says, "I don't break laws, I uphold them."

Enforcement and regulation of international waters and marine life has been spotty at best. The law has traditionally treated oceans as a global common resource that can be used by all nations. Defining boundaries and the complexity of threats to marine life has created problems for the enforcement of international waters. Oceans support a dizzying diversity of marine life. This diversity hangs in a precarious balance and its greatest threat is humans. Overfishing, pollution and particularly destructive fishing methods such as deep sea trawling have devastated marine life. In 1998, only a quarter of marine fish populations were not fully exploited or depleted.

Although whale populations are now a fraction of what they were only a couple hundred of years ago, whaling for "scientific research" is still permitted.

For example, the Institute of Cetaceous Research in Japan supposedly needs around 1,000 minke whales annually for DNA research, but whale meat sales account for $35 million, or 60% of the institute's budget.

Sea Shepherd's tactics should serve as a model for other nonprofit organizations. Sea Shepherd uses a combination of legal, direct action and specialized campaigns, coupled with celebrity and media support. Pierce Brosnan, Martin Sheen, William Shatner and Richard Dean Anderson are among a few of the celebrities who support the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society.

Captain Watson commented, "How can we fail when we have James Bond, Captain Kirk, the President of the United States and McGyver?"

Finally, Sea Shepherd takes international volunteer crew members to empower people with the firsthand knowledge that individuals are the ones who make the difference.

The ultimate origin of the destruction of sea life is the consumer. Regardless of whether the obliteration of marine life comes from legal or illegal fishing, these practices will exist as long as we create the market by consuming marine life and using products made from whales and seals.

Although Captain Watson is not a lawyer, he definitely understands client-centredness. His clients are marine species. That is why he unapologetically shrugs off criticism of the sinking and ramming of illegal fishing and whaling ships.

"So what? We did not sink those ships for you ... We sank them for the whales. Find me one whale that disagrees with the action and we will no longer do such things."

More info please

This might get my arse blasted, but here goes...

Although I'm philosophically opposed to whaling and I'm most certainly unimpressed by the disingenous "scientific research" malarchy that we're being fed (where's the data? where are the research papers?), I would like to know why exactly the Japanese shouldn't whale.

I know that I can Google the answer myself, but I think it might be helpful to round out the pros and cons. If we could get a precis on the topic posted here by somebody else, that would be great

Are whales being hunted to extinction? If so which ones? Can the Japanese hunt other sorts of whales? Surely not all whales are on the brink of extinction. Do the Japanese favour the endangered species only?

More info please.

Learning from the past

The current zero limit on commercial whaling is because of previous failures to manage and the pushing of most whale populations to the brink. Even with the current process of recovery whale populations are tiny compared to pre-whaling populations. There would indeed seem to be some need for scientific research to answer the questions raised by Mark but this information would not be forthcoming from a program that acts as a cynical cover for a return to commercial whaling.

I seriously doubt that it would be just a matter of raw numbers. A commentary by members of the Scientific Committee of the IWC last year (Nature, 16 June 2005, 883-4) stressed the need to understand such things as the impact on regional populations, the place of various populations within a whole ecosystem, implications of issues such as climate change and so on. That is to say, there is a need for some agreed upon objectives and assumptions that learn from and address past failures in understanding.

Above all, there would need to be, it seems to me, some indication of good faith by its participants – something singularly lacking at the moment. It’s an outrage that the Japanese program is now being escalated and includes endangered species such as the fin whale and will include vulnerable species such as the humpback.

And on a more serious note

The news today from Greenpeace is:

"The inflatable boats have been hauled in. The crew is exhausted, the ships need fuel, and it's time to take the campaign to save the whales from the high seas to the High Street."

And I see the value in the achievements Greenpeace lists:

"They've saved whales. They've slowed down the hunt. They've alerted millions of people around the world to the whale killing they've witnessed in the Southern Ocean."

Greenpeace is now moving to the next phase as they see it - leveraging the awareness they've built within our communities of the "supply-side" of the issue - the whale killing season.

That makes perfect sense to me, but also I think there remains a long term "demand-side" strategy that needs to be worked on and that is meeting the challenge of changing the perception of those in the market for whale meat.

As I understand it, the national markets for whale meat and blubber in Japan, Norway, and Iceland are declining. So strategies to push those national markets into terminal decline are needed.

The demand side

There is some basis for reducing the demand side of the equation. Extrapolating from this Age article there are a few points that can be made against the Japanese whale lobbies’ invented tradition regarding the eating of whale meat:
  • it’s traditionally part of regional cuisine (Osaka, Kobe, whaling regions) and not general;
  • eating whale meat became more common in the immediate post war period when it was part of the school lunch as a source of cheap protein during harder times;
  • this is part of a generational experience foreign largely to their parents and grandparents;
  • many Japanese find it not actually nice to eat especially when they now have the wide array of options of a wealthy society. One of the reasons for eating it is nostalgia;
  • it is now expensive - no longer a source of cheap food.
I also note a recent Greenpeace action which had them deliver a 20 ton fin whale to the steps of the Japanese embassy in Germany.

Some fun on a sunny saturday

Those whales they're smart mammals. They'll will go to great lengths to escape the Japanese. A couple were seen scouting out a safe place, in London of all places would you believe?

author's reply

I note that the comment that when a person (Watson) has been involved in an apparently illegal activity I should give a source, but I didnt source it because it came from Watson's organisation itself - Sea Shepherd.  Perhaps I should have put in - 'self-confessed' or something similar. Anyway, thanks for pointing that out.

Hamish: I assumed as such after I had goofed at Jay, Dale, though there's no harm reiterating that sources are always good. Thanks Dale.

Illegal? Acts of aggression? Futile?

Illegal? Acts of aggression? Futile?

Reality check: The IWC has had a moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986. The Japanese government opposes this and carries on whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary under the guise of “scientific research,” which nobody takes as anything but cynical (and “illegal”), part of a long campaign to make the scientific flip over to a return to commercial whaling. Thus, the (“aggressive”) escalation in nos killed to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales.

It is this together with their farcical manoeuvrings at the IWC and the inaction (or “futility”) of governments fearful of damaging relations with Japan that has triggered the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd actions. Honestly, who would be now noticing if it wasn’t for these actions?

Next year the escalation will include the killing of 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales (should be easy pickings given that humpbacks are used to human closeness because of eco-tourism).

I heard an interview with Paul Watson where he responded to Aust Environment minister, Ian Campbell, claiming that he (Watson) was setting back the issue by 10 years. Watson replied that he only hoped this was true given that 10 years ago they were taking fewer whales than they are attempting to do right now.

Whaling activists

The argument against whaling, and the rights and wrongs of the activists are two different issues.

Greenpeace makes it clear that their intention is to ‘harass’ the whaling ships, and if possible to prevent them from whaling. It would be difficult to portray Greenpeace as anything but the aggressors.

Anybody attempting to board a vessel uninvited on the high seas, could, I presume, be assumed to be a pirate. The first duty of a captain must be to ensure the safety of his ship and his crew. In the circumstances I am amazed at the restraint shown by the Japanese in these confrontations.

Eventually the Japanese must be expected to defend themselves and their livelihood whether that involves the use of pressure hoses and boiling water or opening up one of the small inflated crafts with a harpoon. At that point expect howls of outrage from the fools who constantly put themselves in harm's way and rely entirely on the humanity of those they harass for their safety.

It's strange...

It's strange but there seems to be an assumption that these boats are pursuing legal activities. It's illegal hunting being undertaken in sanctuary waters. These illegal actions are being highlighted by Greenpeace.

When the UK waters were being fished illegally by Iceland, they did in fact send in frigates. But until our government take some action, we rely on these activists to raise awareness.

Garteth: We could seize these boats if they came into port to refuel. But then the following year they'd probably take a fuel tanker with them.

Good on you Peter

Good on you Peter for defending the rights of those scientific researchers in the Southern Ocean to make an honest living. I commend your keen perception of where all this will lead (you know the bit about boiling water and harpoons to the inflatables). The humanity of these scientific researchers has been on display for all to see but even they have their limits. And if this happens those pc phonies who support them will only have themselves to blame – boiling and harpooning is too good for them, don’t you think?

Maritime 101

Peter. Maritime 101. The captain’s first duty is to his or her passengers, then the crew, then the ship.

That’s why the captain goes down with the ship not with the passengers. You get the passengers to safety, then the crew, then work on yourself and the ship.


The whaling vessel has a right to defend herself from aggressors, but I am not sure that a six hundred thousand tonne factory ship is going to be forced aground or plundered by a few folk in inflatables, or overrun by survival suit clad flag bearers.


The Captain and crew of the whaling vessel do not have the right to harpoon the protesting RIV and take a life, that would be premeditated murder not piracy.


Yes, expect howls if such an incident occurs.

yes they would be criminal acts

...Syd Drate. But the Japanese whalers have chosen to live outside the law so I cannot really see a problem with this actvist action unless it's dangerous for the sailors aboard. I'd probably need more detailed information about the incidents. I don't see how anyone can defend the whalers. What they are doing is abhorrent.

The Japanese need to resolve this one

Michael de Angelos, considering that is a Japanese vessel conducting this whale “research” maybe it would be more appropriate and relevant to complain about the inaction from the Japanese govt. Ultimately the folks who elect the Japanese govt (and eat the whales, sorry conduct research on), the Japanese people, have to take the action on this one.

What do you suggest Howard do, send a few Anzac frigates down there and sink the whaling boats? Maybe we could say our Navy is conducting research on the results of a Harpoon missile hitting the side of a whaling ship?

Is it possible to discuss an issue here on Webdiary without pinning blame on the likes of Howard and Bush?


Gareth, may I suggest that instead of sending frigates that the government ban the fleet from our ports, denying them of fuel and other essential supplies. 

Currently the fleet are welcome to fish our oceans till their hearts are content, And when out of fuel show up in our ports to refuel.

If you don’t have enough fuel and supplies for your ships voyage, she stays in port, it really is that simple.

Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd actions great

Syd Drate may believe these anti-whaling actions are futile, but this is mere wishful thinking on his part.

By staging a dramatic and effective confrontation with the whaling vessels, activists have ensured the world's attention is once again focussed on the reality (bloody murder) of Japan's cynical pretense of "scientific whaling".

Congratulations to all concerned for an outstanding effort.  May we see more of it until whaling is once again banned completely.

BTW Syd, whatever Greenpeace spent, I'll bet it's peanuts when set beside the PR costs of the Japanese whaling industry, and the government which supports it.  I'm glad you're thinking of donating to Donna Mulhearn's work though.  It's the best thing I've heard you say in quite a while.

Who is the PR firm...

in NZ managing the Japanese press releases?

Donating to Donna

No I have no intention of donating to Donna's work.

However 18 months ago I donated an ambulance to the Israeli Magen David Adom (Red Cross).

Save the Whale. Save Us As Well.

This was an enormously generous, important and noble gift by you Syd and I admire you for it.

The behaviour of the whalers in the south, and of the ongoing efforts by the Japanese to corrupt the IWC fill me with contempt. The cynicism of the blatant in your face "scientific research" lie is stomach churning.

But there is something I feel confident about. Your remarkable gift 18 months ago will have saved more human lives in that time than whales saved by Greenpeace tactics in the last thirty years. If it's not working why not try something else? Perhaps something a little less confrontational and threatrical? And more effective?

Less drama. More persuasion. We don't like in your face supercilious screeching. Why should the Japanese?


There is a campaign underway to discredit Greenpeace in this latest shocking episode of Japanese lawbreaking including media and internet sites claiming the Greenpeace ship deliberately rammed the Nisshin Maru. Photos and vision have been posted to prove the point which do not , merely showing an incident did happen. There are also six international journalist on-board the Greenpeace boat who all say it was the Japanese who rammed.

This episode really shows up the Howard government's timidity in international affairs. It simply will not confront the Japanese government for a number of reasons. It rolls over for the US "Free" Trade Agreement and gives them whatever they ask and then some. But be a desperate bunch of Indonesians in a leaking boat fishing in our waters expect to be sunk. We have become another nation of bullies.


Michael, Cpt. Watson has been involved in the sinking of eight whaling ships over the past 30 years and attempted to foul the propellers of one of the Japanese whaling ships, Nisshin Maru, last week.

Criminal acts, yes or no?

Hamish: Syd, these are spectacular charges. For the sake of actually furthering the discussion rather than merely flaming it, please provide us with evidence. Furthermore, unless you were a witness to criminal acts yourself, the convention is to tell us who made the allegations - and to term them such. Nothing is self-evident, and frankly when people treat things as self-evident (lots of people here should hear this) I generally assume they are making things up.


See here

Since 1979, Sea Shepherd crew and agents have sent ten illegal whaling ships to the bottom:

1979 - The pirate whaler “Sierra” rammed and sunk in Portugal. 1980 - The outlaw whalers “Isba I” and “Isba II” sunk in Vigo, Spain.

1980 - The pirate whalers “Susan” and “Theresa” sunk in South Africa. 1981 - The illegal whaling ships “Hvalur 6” and “Hvalur 7” sunk in Iceland.

1992 - The outlaw whaler “Nybraena” sunk in Norway. 1994 - The pirate whaler “Senet” sunk in Norway.

1998 - The pirate whaler “Morild” sunk in Norway.

The truth

I got this information from the article Dale Mills wrote for WD.

Hamish, I assume you would not allow somebody to write something that was not the truth.

Hamish: Syd, I certainly overreacted. I was confused however as you seemed to be rebutting Michael, who was defending Greenpeace, and the Captain you referred to is not from Greenpeace but from Sea Shepherd. You also seemed to be introducing new material, as there is no indication you are quoting Dale. Apologies, but can we all try to be clear when we are quoting and when we are bringing in our own material. I take responsibility for not cross-checking, but we can all help each other in this task of discussing issues. Thanks.


Perhaps Dale Mills could let us know how much money Greenpeace has spent during the last 25 days in their futile efforts.

Donna Mulhearn, who runs a humanitarian aid project in Baghdad for young people homeless after the war, could certainly use the money that has been wasted.

As for the ramming of the Arctic Sunrise, surely it was the other way round because the bow of the Arctic Sunrise was damaged showing that they rammed the Japanese ship.

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