Japanese citizens turn against whaling
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The Times UK
Japan admits whale hunts are for food, not science
Lucy Alexander Tokyo
Last updated at 9:10AM, February 27 2013
After years of claiming the opposite, the Japanese Government has finally admitted that its controversial programme of whale hunts is conducted for cultural and culinary reasons rather than science.
The new Japanese Fisheries Minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, attacked other nations’ criticism of whaling as “a cultural attack, a kind of prejudice against Japanese culture”.
Commercial whaling is banned by the International Whaling Commission, but Japan continues to hunt whales each year for what it calls scientific research. Much of the catch ends up in Japanese restaurants, however, a fact that Mr Hayashi defended, comparing the practice with Australians who eat kangaroo meat or Koreans who eat dogs.
“In some countries they eat dogs, like Korea”, he told AFP. “In Australia they eat kangaroos. We don’t eat those animals, but we don’t stop them from doing that because we understand that’s their culture.”
He added, “Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea, so taking some good protein from the ocean is very important.”
The disclosure comes in the midst of an aggressive confrontation between Japanese whaling vessels and militant environmental activists in the Southern Ocean. Each side accuses the other of ramming their ships. On Monday a US appeals court in Seattle said that the Sea Shepherd protestors, who regularly disrupt the Japanese fleet, are “the very embodiment of piracy”.
The judges ruled in favour of a Japanese whaling support group, the Institute of Cetacean Research, after it asked for an injunction against the Sea Shepherd activists.
They said, “You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship ...”
Scott West, a spokesman for Sea Shepherd’s operations in the United States, said that the group would transfer responsibility for the anti-whaling campaign to its representatives in other countries.
In the meantime, Japan will continue to hunt whales. “I don’t think there will be any kind of an end for whaling by Japan,” Mr Hayashi said. “Whaling has long been part of traditional Japanese culture, so I just would like to say ‘please understand this is our culture’.”
Sea Shepherd claims 'false': Japan
March 28, 2013 12:13PM
In the middle of February, the Australian-operated SSS Bob Barker caught up with the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru in the vast icy waters of the Southern Ocean.
The Sea Shepherd vessel claimed it had spotted the Japanese ship 280 nautical miles east of Australia's Antarctica Mawson's Research Station - smack bang in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
A new and at times violent phase of the anti-whaling group's Operation Zero Tolerance was about to begin.
The Nisshin Maru and the Bob Barker had been sparring in the days leading up to February 20, when a dramatic collision between the two made international headlines and provoked condemnation from both the Australian and Japanese governments.
The Japanese had used high-powered water cannons on February 15 to deter Sea Shepherd crews trying to disable the whaler's rudder and propeller but it was five days later the action really heated up.
The Bob Barker became wedged between the Nisshin Maru and a supply tanker as the Japanese ship tried to refuel.
The distance between them closed, and the vessels collided with a sickening crunch.
Video of the clash has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times worldwide since then, but the blame game varies considerably depending on who's telling the story.
Japan's whaling research group, the Institute of Cetacean Research, accused the Sea Shepherd of piracy and endangering lives and risking an oil spill in its "foolhardy obstruction attempts".
But the Sea Shepherd stands by its claims that the Bob Barker was rammed, and that crew on the Nisshin Maru lobbed stun grenades at the stricken anti-whaling ship.
When the Bob Barker and two other Sea Shepherd vessels arrived in Melbourne in mid-March for repairs, the crew boasted that Operation Zero Tolerance had been their most successful - and most dangerous - campaign to date.
Japan's deputy head of mission to Australia, Minister Tetsuro Amano, maintains video evidence shows the Bob Barker confronted the Nisshin Maru, not the other way around.
He said Sea Shepherd had adopted a "tricky media strategy" during the annual hunt in January and February to spread untruths about Japan's whaling missions.
"Please understand their strategy is to make propaganda," Mr Amano told AAP in an interview at the Japanese embassy in Canberra.
Other claims by the conservation group that the Japanese sent a military icebreaker to escort their fleet in the hunt for whale meat were also "completely fake", he added.
What's clear is that the conflict in and around Australia's territorial seas in Antarctica causes a headache every year for Japan and Australia as the trading partners debate the touchy subject of whaling.
Mr Amano said while Australia may have a different interpretation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), Japan is adamant the agreement permits it to kill whales for scientific research.
"This is research whaling," Mr Amano said.
"It's not the purpose to sell meat to the market."
It's a claim Australia rejects so strongly that it's taken Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing it of using a loophole to breach a long-standing moratorium on commercial whaling.
As the Sea Shepherd and whale crews traded blows, Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said Japan's ongoing defence of its so-called scientific program was a blatant "con".
"There's nothing scientific about harpooning a whale and chopping it up and then putting its meat on a plate," he said in February.
The federal government welcomed a decision by South Korea in January to call off its hunt, adding Japan had a lot to learn about non-lethal, modern research methods from its East Asian neighbour.
But Japan claims its "compelled" under the convention to sell all the meat it acquires from its scientific trips to the market.
"This is very natural, reasonable action on the basis of such an international whale convention," Mr Amano said.
Sea Shepherd director and former Greens leader Bob Brown claims whale meat is no longer popular in Japan, with thousands of tonnes of unsalable meat piling up in Tokyo warehouses.
But Mr Amano said that as a commercial consideration, Japan did not care one way or the other if whale meat was popular because its mission was driven by science, not profit.
Japan is, however, concerned about Sea Shepherd.
It's taken legal action against the group, branded 'eco-terrorists' by some opponents, and called on Australia to dissuade the Sea Shepherd from interfering in the hunt.
Even after putting aside disputes over the purpose of its missions, Japan says it's imperative safety on the seas is upheld by all nations and "piracy or dangerous activities" are prevented.
The violent clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd this season revived calls for Australia to send a Customs or Navy vessel to independently monitor the hunt.
Mr Burke has ruled out such action, warning it would add fuel to the fire and threaten the stability of the Antarctic Treaty System.
Again, in strong language, he attacked Japan for its "disgusting" hunt and claimed it was running operations in "flagrant violation" of international law.
Mr Amano is well versed on Australia's anti-whaling stance.
But while he's ruled out Japan bringing its military into the fray, he's not against the idea of Australia sending in a ship, suggesting it could help dispel some myths about Japan's operations.
"Personally, I'd like to welcome it," Mr Amano said.
"Maybe if in the future the Australian government will launch such a customs vessel to such an area they can understand very well what is a fact."
With such action ruled out, the federal government is waiting for the ICJ verdict, and believes one is close.
The case began in June 2010, with Australia alleging - among other things - Japan was running a large-scale whaling program, which included killing humpback and fin whales, in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Mr Amano declined to comment on whether Japan would uphold an unfavourable ruling by the court, but did say his country was keen to see the matter resolved.
Until then, Japan has every intention of returning to the Southern Ocean next year to continue with its research program, he says.
When that time comes, there may be a new coalition government in Canberra, one that's promised to send a Customs vessel to police the Antarctic seas if elected.
In opposition, the coalition has accused the government of allowing chaos on the seas and risking a serious incident involving injury, death or a major oil spill.
But whether the coalition wins or not, Japan can be sure the Sea Shepherd isn't going anywhere.
The group has already begun rallying supporters to help repair its ships - vowing to again step in where the Australian government won't.