It is November and the Sea Sheppard team are gearing up for another season of interruption against the Japanese whaling fleet.
This time, however, the annual hunt masked as scientific discovery, is controversial for another reason. It is even drawing criticism inside Japan. The reason for this is around $30 million USD worth of funding that has come not just from the government, but directly from a fund set aside to help rebuild the economy in the area of eastern Tohoku wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Whaling has always been a controversial outside of Japan, but has barely made an impact inside the country. This year, the task of the Japanese whaling fleet is to kill 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales. The iron and mercury rich meat will find its way into some supermarkets, where it will be bought by few people or in some restaurants, where again, it will be an occasional dish. Most of it is destined to be frozen and stored, like with the whale meat from previous kills. For the Japanese government, this is a twisted piece of principle. The principle of not being told what to do by outsiders and of continuing an old tradition, forced on the country by food shortages, and disregarding increases in technology that turn the killing of a few whales close to the shore, to a mass, industrial killing spree anywhere in the Pacific.
This year, even the Japanese are complaining.
An Abuse of Funds
The Japanese government have always poured funds into the whaling project. If it was not for government largesse, the project would fail. Now Greenpeace have reported that the whaling project is receiving funding from money set aside to help Tohoku overcome the devastation of the March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The amount is thought to be 12.1 trillion yen, which works out at about $30 million US dollars or £19 million. This money comes technically from the Japanese Fisheries Agency, which regularly funds operations of this kind, but the agency lobbied central government for a slice of the Tohoku relief fund.
Japan’s fisheries agency argued that the funding would actually help the local communities, who rely on whaling for their income. Junichi Sato, however, has argued that the whaling programme and the tsunami recovery effort are totally unrelated. He told Australia’s ABC that the money would be used “to cover the debts of the whaling programme.” Sato says this is because “the whaling programme itself has been suffering from big financial problems.”
A New Tactic
Last season the Sea Shephard team were able disrupt whaling efforts to such an extent that Japan abandoned its effort before completing it. This year both the New Zealand and the Australia governments have lodged formal complaints against Japan for their determination to kill whales again. Naturally, these protests will fall on deaf ears. Australia have decided to take things further by taking legal action through the International Court of Justice, though whether this would have anything other than a moral victory is moot. Turning the southern Pacific into a protected nature reserve would have more of an impact, as would serious attempts to limit Japan’s ability to plunder fish such as tuna from across the world through international fish markets.
As for Greenpeace and the Sea Sheppard team, this is a new year with a new tactic. The plan is simple, stop Japan killing any whales. As Ecorazzi have reported, the Sea Sheppard Conservation Society (SSCS) have added a fourth, mysterious ship to their fleet. Known as Sam Simon, the ship is being kept under wraps until Operation Zero Tolerance gets underway in the Southern Ocean this year. The fleet will contain four ships, a helicopter, three drones and eight small RIBs. These will be staffed and aided by over a hundred volunteers from around the world. This includes Paul Watson, who is being sought by Interpol for skipping bail in Germany after a dubious legal action by Costa Rica, which came a matter of months or even weeks after a round of funding from Japan.
For the SSCS, maintaining a high quality fleet and effectively side stepping Japanese attempts to track and control them is vitally important. As the sinking of the Ady Gil demonstrated in the past, maintaining a fleet and complying with ship insurance regulations is difficult for organizations like the SSCS and it is important to do things in the right way. Luckily the society have friends in high places, as shown by the names on the boats such as The Simpsons’ Sam Simon and also Bob Barker. This risk, however, will be increased due to the society’s attempt to cut the whaling fleet off closer to the Japanese mainland. This risks incidents involving the Japanese navy and maybe even legal action in Japan if they stray into Japanese waters and are arrested. The one hope is that it will cut down the number of whales killed or maybe even stop it altogether.