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Whaling Confrontation Brewing in Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

by Takver - Sydney Indymedia
A confrontation between the Japanese Whaling Fleet and conservationists from Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace is likely to happen over the coming weeks in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary off the coast of Antarctica.
Japanese whalers have set a target of 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales for slaughtering under a loophole in the International Whaling Commission regulations as "scientific research". The whaling fleet sell the whaling meat in Japan to cover costs, although the demand for whale meat is declining despite Government programs to promote it. The science behind the Japanese slaughter has been heavily questioned, such as in A Case For Killing Humpback Whales? recently submited to Nature Precedings in which the authors say "The promulgation of a lethal research program that targets low-priority science, with a demonstrably low likelihood of achieving its stated objectives, appears unsupportable when viewed solely in a scientific context."

Sea Sheperd will be present with their ship Steve Irwin in their fourth year of campaigning against whaling in the Antarctic. Greenpeace will also be there with the Esperanza. There may even be a lone New Zealand sailor, David Taylor, aged 54 in his home built yacht to take on the might of the Japanese whaling fleet. The Australian Government may yet send a ship or surveillance aircraft to observe and gather evidence from the Japanese hunt to persue legal action against Japan.

US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack urged Japan to refrain from the whale hunt on November 19: "While recognizing Japan's legal rights under the Whaling Convention to conduct this hunt, we note that non-lethal research techniques are available to provide nearly all relevant data on whale populations. We call on Japan to refrain from conducting this year's hunt, especially with respect to humpback and fin whales."

Australia, New Zealand and Britain have also criticised the expansion of the whale hunt this season.

Greenpeace attempts to shadow the Nisshin Maru

The Japanese Whaling Fleet set sail from Shimonoseki on November 18 with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza waiting outside territorial waters to shadow the fleet. But during the night the Nisshin Maru factory ship evaded the Esperanza with assistance from the Japanese coastguard. With the Nishin Maru having escaped being shadowed all the way to Antarctica, the Esperanza also headed south arriving in Auckland harbour on December 7. Mechanical problems with the helicopter on board Esperanza has delayed their departure.

Greenpeace have been working with scientists researching humpback whales in the South Pacific. A number of whales have been tagged by the Cook Islands Whale Research and Opération Cétacés (New Caledonia), and are being tracked via satellite from their breeding grounds in the South Pacific to their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Tracking Information posted on the Great Whale Trail has been delayed to ensure the whaling fleet cannot locate them from this information. One of the whales being tracked by Greenpeace was the centre of a naming campaign which attracted 100,000 votes in an online poll: Mr Splashy Pants was the winning name.

Another whale satellite tracking project is underway by the Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute.

Sea Shepherd on the Hunt for Whale Killers

The Sea shepherd Conservation Society renamed its whale defending ship Bob Hunter to the Steve Irwin after a moving naming ceremony involving Terri Irwin, the wife of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin who was killed by a stingray barb in a fluke accident last year. Steve Irwin had been negotiating with Captain Paul Watson to join the Sea Shepherd campaign to stop the Japanese whaling slaughter in the southern ocean whale sanctuary. The Steve Irwin departed Melbourne, Australia on December 5 and are now hunting the whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Japan has pressured various Governments not to register Sea Shepherd ships. Sea Shepherd has had their registration cancelled by Canada, Britain and Belize. So the Steve Irwin proudly flies the flag of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy presented by the Mohawks at Kahnewake.

Australian Government under pressure to Intervene

Before the Australian Federal election on November 24, Peter Garrett the Labor Environment spokeperson committed a Labor Government to act more strongly against Japan including the possibility of sending a ship to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. In fact election pledge No 130 and 131 of the Labor party says that "Labor will pursue a permanent end to all commercial and scientific whaling and the establishment of a global whale sanctuary," and "Labor will pursue legal action against whaling nations before international courts and tribunals to end the slaughter of whales for all time."

Now in Government, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told the ABC "We haven't ruled out the use of Australian assets for the purposes of collecting photographic evidence in support of a possible future international legal case against the Japanese on whaling," he said.

The previous Government of John Howard made diplomatic protests against Japanese whaling but stopped short of any legal action under international maritime or conservation law. "I understand the full complexity and difficulty of this challenge. I'm fully aware of the depth and strength of our bilateral diplomatic relationship with Japan. I'm equally aware of the fact that no one seriously believes this is whaling for scientific purposes." said Kevin Rudd

Green groups have called for the Rudd Government to take immediate action against whaling by Japan by a formal protest under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) about Japan’s killing of humpbacks.

Greenpeace CEO Steve Shallhorn said "The Japanese government are breaching the international trade convention with their plans to import humpback whale meat into Japan. It is up to the new Australian Government to do everything it can to protect Australia's $300 million whale watching industry".

In November 2007 an international panel of independent legal experts convened in London issued a detailed report - London Report on Illegal Whaling - challenging the legal status of Japan’s whaling operations, particularly the taking of endangered sei and humpback whales. The panel also recommended action to be taken against the government of Japan for its violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ambassador Alberto Szekely, an international law Professor who served as coordinator of the London Panel and related expert panels convened in Paris and Sydney in 2006, said: “Japan’s repeated assertion that its whaling activities are legal is incorrect and misleading. ‘Scientific whaling’ as conducted by Japan violates international law and should not be allowed to continue.”

Whale Research

While the whale fleet intends to slaughter 935 minke whales - purportedly for research, an Australian scientific team is embarking on an aerial survey of minke whales in 150,000 kms of pack ice off East Antarctica. The Japanese Institute of Cetecean Research, under which whaling is performed, is still working on 1990 estimates by the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee of 760,000 Antarctic minke whales, however more recent surveys indicate numbers may be much lower. The aerial survey and mathematical modelling by scientists may give a more realistic up to date count - something that the Japanese scientific lethal research just can't give us.

In November a report on the ABC news website argued that DNA testing of discarded tissue from whales provided a non-lethal means of whale research giving genetic identity, sex, and even approximate age characteristics. This made an impression on the Japanese whalers with a press release in reply defending lethal research. In response Associate Professor Peter Harrison, director of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre has challenged the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research to a full debate on its program of 'scientific whaling'.

"Our research is based on benign scientific methods that will provide meaningful data for managing whale populations, unlike the lethal methods used by Japanese whalers that have failed to provide useful data despite more than 7,000 whales having been killed over the past 20 years," Professor Harrison said.

"These are Australian humpback whales that are born and bred in tropical Australian waters including the Great Barrier Reef," Professor Harrison said. "The largest breeding humpbacks are likely to be targeted which will reduce the rate of recovery of Australian populations and disrupt long-term research programs by Australian scientists, and could have a devastating impact on smaller, South Pacific populations. Some South Pacific populations of humpback whales are very small and have not recovered from commercial whaling last century. If the Japanese kill the breeding females that would have a major impact on their recovery and threaten the viability of these small populations."

"The International Whaling Commission has consistently stated that it does not require the information that the Japanese claim to be gaining as a result of their ‘special permit’ whaling, and there have been dozens of resolutions requesting them to cease operations, but these have again been ignored. We want to see a full and open debate based on science to ensure that we protect the future of humpback whale populations throughout the southern hemisphere,” Professor Harrison said. We are still waiting for that debate from the Japanese Institute for Cetecean Research.


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Andre Casanave
Mon, Dec 17, 2007 12:42PM
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