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Taking on Goliath: Whaling and the Contradictions of International Conservation Law
Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reflects on the secret talks being brokered by the USA on a compromise whaling deal, on the illegal nature of whaling by the Japanese whaling fleet, and on why the members of the Sea Shepherd crew persist: as a David and Goliath example of resistance to ecological destruction and greed that is blighting our planet.
Photo: Sea Shepherd crew in a Zodiac inflatable boat race alongside Japanese harpoon whaling vessel the Yushin Maru No. 1 (Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
What would we think of the police if they were to ask bank robbers to cut down on the number of robberies in the city and rob more banks in the country instead? This is exactly what the United States is proposing with criminal whaling operations by Japan.
In an effort to reduce the illegal slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, William Hogarth, appointed to the International Whaling Commission by George W. Bush and now the Chairman of the IWC, is recommending that in return for a "reduced" quota by Japan in the Southern Ocean, that Japan be given a legal commercial quota off the coast of Japan.
Commercial whaling is illegal. Killing endangered and threatened whales is illegal. Killing whales in an established international whale sanctuary is illegal. Killing whales in Antarctic waters is illegal. Killing whales in the Australian Antarctic Territory is illegal. Refueling whaling ships in the Antarctic Treaty Zone is illegal. Dumping blood and offal from whaling ships is illegal in the Antarctic Treaty Zone. Failing to file an environmental assessment to operate a commercial enterprise in the Antarctic Treaty Zone is illegal.
Japan is in violation of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Antarctic Treaty, and the Regulations of the International Whaling Commission. Japan is in violation of the regulations of the United States Department of Commerce and is in contempt of an Australian Court Order prohibiting whaling in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Yet there seems to be a complete denial of Japan's illegal activities. Greenpeace is more concerned about crewmembers stealing whale meat from the whaling industry than they are about all of the international violations. The members of the IWC seem more concerned about Sea Shepherd throwing rotten butter onto the whaling ships than they are about all of the international violations. Australia seems more concerned about Sea Shepherd's activities to disrupt whaling than they are about Japan's illegal whaling activities.
Japanese whaling in the Southern Oceans is in violation of the of the U.S. Department of Commerce regulations yet every year the President merely sends a "strongly worded letter of protest" to Japan instead of sanctioning Japan under the law. And every year for the last twenty years, Japan has chosen to ignore the letters.
Australia promises legal action and then reneges, choosing to do nothing under the guise of opting for diplomacy, and as we all know diplomacy with Japan over this issue has failed utterly for twenty-two years. How the so called diplomacy of the Rudd government differs from the diplomacy of the Howard government that Peter Garrett admonished when he was in opposition is unclear.
If Japan were a poor third world nation, they would not be getting away with this illegal slaughter. They would be taken by the scruff of the neck and kicked out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
What is it about the word "sanctuary" that no one seems to understand?
There is no difference between Japanese whaling and the slaughter of mountain gorillas or giraffes in the Congo. Both are forms of bush meat. There is no difference between the slaughter of whales and the poaching of elephants. Both are illegal activities.
In Africa, the rangers shoot to kill elephant poachers and the world applauds. In the Southern Ocean we disrupt the poaching of whales with rotten butter and governments condemn us as extremists and the Japanese call us terrorists. Bullets are justified for black African poachers but rotten butter is "too extreme" for Japanese whale poachers.
We don't see the media reporting on Somali poachers accusing Kenyan rangers of terrorism. We don't see rhino poachers being given credibility in the media for complaining about international efforts to stop their illegal activities.
Why the special dispensation for Japan?
The answer is simple of course. International law is to be used to keep poor nations in line and not to be used against rich economic super powers. International law is designed to keep poor nations poor, and rich nations rich. European nations can illegally dump toxic and radioactive materials into the waters off Somalia and European fisheries can loot the fish from inside the territorial waters of all the African nations and the world turns its eyes away. Yet when some impoverished Somali fishermen, victims of European over-fishing, hi-jack an oil tanker, the world's super powers cry terrorism and rush to discipline the "pirates."
In the name of profits, our oceans are being looted and entire species of fish, sea-birds, and marine mammals are threatened with extinction. Yet the demand for shark-fins, whale meat, bluefin tuna, Chilean Sea Bass and so many more species is of more consideration than the very survival of these species.
Short term profit is tolerated at the expense of long-term consequences.
What is the good of international conservation law if these laws are ignored? What is the point of governments sending representatives at tax-payers expense to extravagant international conferences to draft legislation that everyone ignores?
During the International Whaling Commission meeting in Santiago in June 2008, all the delegates, much to Japan's pleasure, agreed to disagree. Nothing was said or done about illegal whaling. The only thing the delegates could agree on was to condemn the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for tossing rotten butter onto the decks of outlaw Japanese whaling ships. In fact the only non-governmental organization that has ever done anything to enforce the regulations of the International Whaling Commission is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and we are the only non-governmental organization banned from attending the annual meetings.
Governments don't seem to want to solve problems. They want to present the illusion of solving problems. The Australian government wants to have the Australian people believe that Australia is doing something to address the problem but they don't want to have to actually do something about the problem.
Contrary to what our critics say, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has operated within the boundaries of the law since we were established in 1977. Proof of this is that in over three decades of operations we have never been convicted of a felony crime. We have never been sued. We have successfully sued companies for violating the law. We have never caused an injury to any person. Yet the public relations firms of the criminals looting our oceans pump out propaganda constantly accusing us of being criminals and terrorists while they violently lay waste to the entire planet.
It is absolute madness, and it has taken all of my patience for decades to deploy strategies that stay within the bounds of the law when a part of me simply wants to avenge the deaths of millions of lives in our oceans and the destruction of oceanic habitats. We have acted responsibly, cautiously and with great practicality over the years, pushing the envelope as far as the law and morality will allow us to do so. And we will continue to do so. But I fear that we will be hindered even further and that the laws will be tightened by special interests to protect profits and not resources, to protect profits over human rights and the rights of nature.
As resources diminish I see opposition to exploitation being stamped out as "subversive" activities and all attempts to save our oceans, our forests and our environment spun by the professional spin doctors into "crimes against humanity."
The only thing more destructive to eco-systems than the impoverishment of poor nations is the diminishment in materialism of developed nations. Underdeveloped nations cause damage in their quest to utilize all available resources for survival. Developed nations cause even more damage in their quest to utilize all available resources to prevent a decline in their relatively wealthy lifestyles. But be they motivated by survival or by greed, the result is the same and the victims are the non-human species of the planet.
The problem is simple. There are too many people and too few resources. It's the third law of ecology - the law of finite resources. There is a limit to growth. But how can this be addressed within the context of economic systems that depend upon unlimited growth to survive?
Our oceans have reached their limit to give up their resources. The fish cannot breed fast enough to keep up with our demands as we wipe out one species we turn our attention to another, adapting to diminishment with each commercial extinction. Over-fishing, global warming, acidification of the seas, ocean dumping, toxic chemicals, radioactive materials, and so many other human spawned problems all amount to out of control human population growth.
We are locked into a pattern of self destruction. We know what the problems are but we are too selfish as a species to address the problems. We as a species want to eat good food, exotic foods, drive around in cars, fly in airplanes, take trips on yachts, fish, hunt, trap, cut down forests, own a computer, wear the latest fashions etc, forgetting the ecological price we have to pay for these luxuries.
And we do it innocently. The desire to have a child is natural and harmless except when seven billion people want to do the same thing. The need to cut down a tree to build a house is natural except when seven billion people need to cut down a tree for everything from building a house to toilet paper. The desire to catch a fish is natural except when seven billion people want to do so.
Where do even begin?
How do we get off the treadmill that society placed us on the day we were born?
If we drop out and become hermits, the excesses continue on without us. The truth is we cannot get off the bus.
And just as the bus in the movie "Speed" could not stop, we cannot stop the juggernaut of human civilization from going where it will inevitably go. It will run out of fuel or it will crash.
But what we can do is refuse to sit as complacent passengers waiting for the crash. We can dedicate ourselves to trying to slow down the bus and trying to come up with an alternative approach. But the reality is that most people will just sit on the bus, watching movies and listening to their I-pods until the bus hits the wall.
Still we don't need everyone. We just need a strong enough minority because if human history has taught us anything at all, it has taught us that all social revolutions are initiated and led by a very small minority. The majority always go along for the ride.
I marvel at times that with seven billion people on this planet, there are only thirty-three of us down here trying to save these whales from illegal whaling operations. Thirty-three of us with only a few thousand supporters to assist us.
The odds are against us. There are a few hundred whalers down here with the support of Japan, a nation of one hundred million people. They have the money, the machinery, the power, in short they have a stacked deck.
We are limited in our tactics, limited in our finances and we do not enjoy the support of any government.
Why should we even bother? What can we possibly hope to accomplish?
I will tell you what and why?
We are down here in the remote and hostile waters of Antarctica not only to defend the lives of whales but to demonstrate that a few people can make a difference, that we can take on this economic ecologically destructive Goliath and we can beat him with nothing more than a slingshot.
For the last four years we have been kicking this giant in the shins, irritating him, and most importantly costing him profits. We have saved over a thousand whales and we have focused the attention of the world on their obscene slaughter.
And most importantly we are showing for the first time in the history of humanity that people are ready and willing to risk their lives and freedoms as volunteers to defend a non-human species from the greed and criminality of our own kind.
What we do is unprecedented since humankind first appeared on this planet. For the first time ever there are people speaking for the rights of non-human species and not just speaking but actually fighting in defence of the rights of these species.
And it is not just here in at the bottom of the planet, but in Africa where humans are fighting for elephants, in the Galapagos where we are fighting for sharks, in Montana where people are fighting for wolves, or for Redwoods in California, or old growth forests in Tasmania or for coral reefs and fish, and birds, and turtles and invertebrates and flowering plants worldwide.
We are in fact part of a global revolutionary movement that is seeking to reunite ourselves as a species within the harmonious web of diversity of life.
In other words we are fighting to return to the Garden of the Natural World and because of that I do what I do, because this movement gives me great hope.
For in truth if it were not for all of you out there pursuing these compassionate paths, I would not have the strength to even live, for a world divided from nature is a world that has lost its soul and is of little value.
For the majority of people that watch complacently as the world dies around them, I would like to be able to heed the words of Jesus Christ who said, "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do."
But unfortunately all of us in the world today know exactly what we are doing and if there is ignorance, it is a willful, deliberate ignorance and because of the horrific destruction of the natural world, it is an evil ignorance.
There will be no forgiveness if the ecological insanity of humanity is allowed to prevail. There will be no forgiveness because there will be no one left to forgive us.
For in the end there are only three basic ecological laws that we have no choice but to obey. No species in the history of the planet has survived without living in accordance with these three basic laws.
We may be able to ignore international conservation laws but these three laws we cannot ignore for long.
Contradictions have consequences.
Will the Earth plundering Goliath triumph or will we Davids bring the Giant down before it's too late for us all.
All I know is that I've picked up my slingshot and I've got a few stones left to use in this battle.