The Whaling War II

The Japanese whale hunt in the Southern Ocean is always controversial in Australia. But, as predicted earlier this week, the political and public heat around the issue has escalated further in the aftermath of the ramming and subsequent sinking of the Ady Gil – a small trimaran – from the Sea Shepherd fleet, by a security ship from the whaling fleet.

Most Australians are anti-whaling – a stance supported by all political parties, including the government and the main Opposition party – and the widely available video evidence of the collision has only entrenched that view.  The pressure on the Australian government to ‘do something’ is stronger than ever.  The same situation can also be said to apply in New Zealand, where the Ady Gil was registered and where many of its crew are from.  The public squabbling by supporters of either side about the levels of responsibility for the collision will do little other then keep the issue boiling along.

The Australian government has been forced by the public pressure to publicly state a deadline of June before they decide on whether to take legal action against the whaling, depending on whether or not “substantial progress” has been made in diplomatic efforts to get Japan to end whaling.  As the opening words in this piece from the Courier-Mail demonstrates, this is being reported as the Australian government giving the Japanese government “until June to agree to abandon future whale hunts or Australia will take action in the international court.”

This is not actually what Environment Minister Peter Garrett actually said – he said if they “don’t see substantial progress having taken place (by June)… then the question of legal action will be firmly in front of us, and the Government will be in a position to make a decision.”  While this form of words is designed to provide some wiggle room, the only message the public will hear is that the Government will take court at the end of June if the Japanese government doesn’t agree to stop whaling – which of course they are not going to do.

It was always virtually certain that the Japanese would continue to ignore calls to stop or even to reduce whaling, and it is more certain than ever now.  But this statement makes it far from certain that the Australian government will decide to take legal when this fact has been demonstrated in June at the next meeting of the International Whaling Convention.

However, if there is no move to initiate legal action, the heat will be turned up even more on the Australian government and public support for those who are prepared to action – that is, the folks from the Sea Shepherd – will probably grow even more.

Meanwhile, the Tony Abbott led Liberals – who are normally more likely to be complaining about the government being too close to the environmentalists – are slamming the government’s response as “gutless” and demanding the government “submit court action papers and give Japan until 30 June to end whaling.”

This media statement by Greg Hunt, the Opposition’s environment spokesperson, last June shows that they were already demanding court action back then. It also contains a handy list of some of the previous commitments by the current government to do this, including comments by Kevin Rudd, when he was in Opposition back in 2005, calling on the then conservative government to initiate court action.

Calls from government Ministers in both Australia and New Zealand for both the whalers and the conservationists to  ‘show restraint’ will continue to be ignored by both sides. It is far too late for that.  As the Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, says whenever there are calls for restraint from the Australian government:

“We’re not going to restrain ourselves from protecting these whales and we’re not going to restrain ourselves from upholding international conservation law.  The Government has shown so much restraint over the years they have done absolutely nothing.”

This last sentence really is the key one.

The disputes over this issue have been going for many years, but there is little doubt it will become more volatile than ever over the rest of this year, which is of course also an election year.

(the original version of this piece was first published at Asian Correspondent)

ELSEWHERE: These two pieces provide some more useful bacground:

This one from the website of The Australian newspaper provides some background to the perspective of the new Japanese government;

This one from the website of The Guardian newspaper provides some background to the history and attitude of Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd.

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  1. Hello Andrew,

    While I happen to be against whaling myself, I don’t follow the reasoning why it is Australia’s responsibility to ‘do something’ as a result of the Sea Shephards – Japanese whalers kerfuffle. A Japanese ship collided with a New Zealand registered ship in international waters (from my understanding our claim to soveriegnty over those waters is not recognised internationally). How has it come about that it’s seen as Australia’s responsibility to take action, by much of the media and a conservative opposition?

    Secondly, how strong do you think a legal case against Japanese whaling would be? Japan argues that its whaling activities remain justified under Internation Whaling Commission guidelines (largely through the scientific research quota), and apparently has enough influence over one quarter of the voting members of the IWC to prevent further anti-whaling decisions, as a 75% majority is needed to pass a resolution. So is Japan in fact clearly violating international law? It seems to me rather ambigious, but I’m new to the issue and would like to know what you have to say.

    Lastly, (if you don’t mind the plug!) for those interested there’s a good essay on the mechanics of the IWC and the battles between pro- and anti-whaling blocs in a new publication called Quarterly Access: It was set up by a group of volunteers (disclaimer: including myself) to provide an outlet for non-established writers on international affairs.

  2. Andrew Z – Personally, I don’t think the Australian government necessarily has to ‘do something’ specifically about the whale fleet vessel ramming the Sea Shepherd boat. I understand the New Zealand government is investigating it, as the Ady Gil was registered in that country.

    What I am saying is the heightened awareness about whaling and the related conflict will increase the pressure on the Australian government to back their rhetoric with action and be seen to ‘do something’. Ironically, I think the more the Australian just makes general noises of opposition to whaling while doing nothing effective about it, the more people are likely to feel the Sea Shepherd style tactics are the only option, because at least they are ‘doing something’ – even if the ‘something’ they are doing is a confrontational approach which in other circumstances people would not feel so comfortable about.

    It’s not as if Sea Shepherd only started doing this sort of thing yesterday, or that they only target the Japanese. They have had a very aggressive approach from the outside, and have done plenty of the thingsin the northern hemisphere – targetting illegal fishing as well as illegal whaling – and they have had some success in halting whaling and other activities on some occasions.

  3. I think Andrew Zammit may be right in thinking that legal action on the part of the Australian government is not possible when we don’t have sovereignty over Antarctic waters.

    Margi: (answer to comments on previous thread)

    I guess it has not occurred to you that some of us don’t blindly believe everything we hear and read.

    The Japanese could have reasons for killing whales that they don’t want anyone to know about. The same might apply to the Queensland Government banning the aboriginal peoples from using Cape York under the Wild Rivers Program, while leaving a small area open to Chinese mining companies.

    Geoffrey Walker said he had lived in Japan for 30 years, which was why I asked for his further opinion.

    Perhaps the Japanese are collecting eggs, semen, bile, blood and other bodily secretions and organs for specific purposes.

    Perhaps they might even intend to create an army of Humanoid Frankenwhales which eat submarines for lunch, and use torpedoes for toothpicks.

    Maybe they have a plan to develop an even more potent form of Viagra or a superior aphrodisiac.

    But I feel certain they are stockpiling the whale meat to make an even bigger (financial) killing at a later date, and/or fearing that extremists may completely curtail access to fishing grounds of any kind.

    Someone stated that the Japanese had already over-fished their own territorial waters.

    I certainly don’t think it is bad manners, ignorant or provocative to investigate possible alternative agendas.

    Now I’m looking at the slogan: “Fighting for peace is like #### for virginity.” Sometimes people fight to achieve eventual long term peace. I find the comparison with virginity quite absurd, unless the message is about men visiting prostitutes instead of having sex with virgins.

    We all need to put our thinking caps on to determine the real reasons for the Japanese hunting whales when their people clearly don’t want to eat them in great numbers at the present time.

  4. I agree that Australia cannot make loud noises about whaling but not take any action, it should be one or the other.

    I guess two key issue are whether legal action is likely to work and what the price would be. Malcolm Cook of the Lowy Institute suggests taking legal action would cause a lot of damage to our relations with Japan: It could well be argued thats a price worth paying, but I’d personally like to have a sense of how strong our legal case is first. I plan to read around.

    And thanks for the response.

  5. Gee, what a sorry response in at the thread to what ought to been exposed as a bloody cull of several species, further interfering with the workings of an already stressed ecosystem,for no more than the vanity of another tinpot nation state.
    The Japanese antics have never been about not “food” as some naifs have suggested, or for “science”, but more about jingoism and the egomania never quite sorted since ww2, merely so the Japanese can then turn around like kids throwing supermarket tantrums to beat their chests and say, “we’ll do what we want to do!”.
    And the fact that our own governments make equally stupid and or venal decisons regarding “development” and ecology in this country is no excuse to condone in others, it only emboldens others locally similarly bloody-mindded to the cheek to try on their own destructive antics and schemes as well.
    And that’s why Australian governemts typified by that pitiful papier mache caricature appeaser Garrett; truly a man of rather than for his times, won’t take on other countries over war and human rights, OR ecology.
    Because then they would have to grasp the nettle (no pun), take on their own vested interests and for once act in the interests of the whole rather than the vicious, grasping fortunate few.

  6. Lorikeet is right! Now a useful cliche, um,perhaps a frozen whalemeat hunk is a virgin candle in disguise!

  7. The science all has to be transparently presented to the IWC every year. Ever year it is rejected and/or condemned by the vast majority of Governments in attendance at the meeting. Even Norway distances itself from this one.

    There are many theories about why this annual farce takes place. But, it would seem that Lorikeet and I may have one point of agreement – none of us really knows why the Japanese whalers wish to maintain this situation.

    The exercise is already heavily subsidized by the State and much of the meat is left unsold. The economics alone don’t add up; let alone the politics or the ecology. What compounds things, is that it seems that the Japanese population and Government are equally in the dark about the ‘why’. This appears to be an agenda driven by a very small group of fisheries/whaling interest from within Japan.

    I am in full agreement with Andrew at this stage. The only small points of difference might be that I am fairly sure I believe the legal action/s being proposed (and there are a few floating around) are a too high a risk to take. And, I don’t think that Australia is a big enough player in the game to make much of a dent on Japan’s position. Only the US and Europe are placed to do so, and neither look like they will as yet another round of negotiations and talks seems to be floundering inside the IWC.

  8. Paul Walter:

    I don’t think the Japanese would waste time and money beating their chests to show their superiority and dominance over others.

    We must look for the potential dollar sign with numerous zeroes attached to this practice. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  9. In light of the most recent video footage; that taken from the Ady Gil just prior to the ramming; I wonder if those here who would damn Seashepherd at every opportunity could reassess their interpretation, in a spirit of ownership of opinion. I for one would appreciate it.
    Back in 2006, the ‘Nisshin Maru’ performed a similar trick in ramming the ‘Arctic Sunrise’, a Greenpeace ship. In both cases the whalers have turned to starboard to confront the protesters, and then turn hard to port for an encore. ‘Arctic Sunrise’ was hit twice by the ‘Nisshin Maru’.
    Paul Watson ventured an interpretation for that collision, but as the ‘Farley Mowett’ was far away at the time, he clearly did not learn from it.
    Peter Bethune is a capable and careful captain, well aware of the limitations of his vessel, but was perhaps unaware of the deadly determination of the whalers.

  10. Just read Bartlett’s comment in the previous thread about what he would do about whaling if in government. Very well thought out.

    Meanwhile Abbott now seems to be opposing legal action:

    Abbott’s opposition actually makes me slightly more in favour of the idea… but I’d agree with Margi that we’re probably not a big enough player.

  11. Clink, thanks so much for that. I wondered if anyone else had had the brains, as to the recognition of the source of the criminality, and your description of themodus operandi is quite specific.

  12. If the Japanese are intending to take up to 50 Humpbacks this year, regardless of whether the take of the 1000 or so other whales is ‘scientific’ or otherwise, what sanctions are available through CITES, of which Japan are signatories and Humpbacks are listed?
    Presumably the whale meat is ‘traded’ on its way to the tables or dumpsters of Japan.

  13. OK, for starters, the opposition is showing schizophrenic behaviour over the Japanese whaling. Not so very long ago, they were ordering the Government to leave the poor Japanese alone, in case their feeings were hurt. Now, they want to start a WAR! Yes, yes, Tony, settle down and have another whiskey.

    BTW, I’m not at all sure that the Ady Gil was rammed, as you declare in your first paragraph. The video I saw showed that it was under power and darted across the bows of the larger ship. Their declarations that they were at full reverse are unconvincing. So it may reasonably be concluded that the collision was engineered by the protestors for publicity. Crocodile tears don’t impress me.

  14. Deep Green Hart:
    Morally, I believe you are right. Sadly though, the whale meat is not ‘traded,’ because to do so (and therefore contravene CITES) the trade would have to be with another country. Having said that CITES could probably do more … if the political will was there.

    And here we circle back to the same conundrum again. The power to change this situation lies with the power nations of the current world – the US and Europe (as a block … if it can hold it together). Right now, they all seem content for this debate to rage on the open ocean and in the meeting hall of the IWC. Few countries have really been prepared to truthfully escalate the negotiation to head of state level … including for that matter Australia, regardless of the political colors we are flying under. Mostly this issue remains a side note in the diplomatic briefings around the world.

    Chris Grealy:
    Like you I am not so sure who is ultimately responsible. As Andrew has said a few times it is possible to view the footage from two polar opposite perspectives and feel utterly justified in your conviction. Ultimately, the courts will decide. But, as Andrew points out, the expectation of public opinion has been piqued regardless of where the fault lies.

  15. Well, here’s a new opinion.

    My South African neighbour, who is quite an astute individual in political matters, says he thinks both sides were playing chicken, each trying to intimidate the other, and that the collision was an accident.

  16. Yes Lorikeet, probably so!
    If the Japanese would just bone up on real science and keep their fleet home, there would be no need for such confrontations in the first place.
    Meanwhile, this thing with the Japanese only taking whales for “scientific purposes”.
    If that’s the case, this business of people eating them afterwards is just, shall we say, an “oversight”?
    Then all this stuff some have suggested as to a nefarious link between bigbusiness and whaling relating to the$s involved, would be disproven, yes?
    I say this in light of certain earlier comments proposing that whales were legitimately being taken for food.
    Just thinking on this, btw, how many macabre “experiments” can you conduct on dead or drowning whales or their corpses before you find out what ever it is you need to “know” about them?
    And boy. after all these experiments, whats left of the whale meat? Must be pretty rank.
    Perhaps the Greenies are inadvertantly saving the benighted Japanese public from food poisoning as well?

  17. Paul Walter:

    As you would be aware, lots of skulduggerous acts are perpetrated these days in order to grab the mighty dollar.

    Please reconsider all of the possibilities I have suggested: e.g. vaccines against laboratory-created viruses, other medical and naturopathic products, interspecies breeding and warfare.

    But I think the greatest likelihood is that they are stockpiling frozen whalemeat in anticipation of a worldwide ban, or very strict limitations on fishing. If the Japanese still have a bountiful supply, they could end up naming their own price.

    The Japanese public would not be poisoned if frozen products were appropriately thawed for use. The Japanese brain was not found in a cornflakes box.

    In this day and age, I would never describe financial zeal as nefarious.

    Part of the reason that third world populations are starving, is that the western world sells weapons to their governments, and then they have little money left to buy food.

  18. thanks andrew
    sorry i took so long to say so.
    but after reading your comment carfuly and all the others to .
    i asked myself a question if most off the world including all countrys that have some clame over antarctica .
    mabe its not the whaling that the japanese are interested in mabe it go,s deeper than that . mabe they want there little chunk to and the only way thay can try for it is to get to court and base there case on who has soverenty over the waters and land there .
    as you mentiond this could be the outcome of a court case .

    if i as a mear mortal could think of it i would imagine others could of thought a long time ago

    it seams to make sence to me
    ask yourself why go and hunt whales the cost and danger not to mention the bad will it brings to your ppl would you do it with out some sort of greater goal.
    the price of whale meat in japan dosent justafy the risk.

    is this why any australian govt has been reluctant to take them to court .

    mabe tony abbott knows more than we give him credit for .

    if it gos to court and the japanese win they will claim a greate prize if they loose so what they stop whaling which makes them popular and saves them a lot of money.

    it would seam the only country that will loose is us
    for not acting sooner when they had the chance to.

  19. Red Crab:

    Maybe the Japanese want sovereignty over the Antarctic waters themselves. Perhaps they want to use the area to test nuclear weapons.

    Maybe they have some old submarines from WWII, on which they want to test the Humanoid Frankenwhales.

  20. tsc tsc lorikeet

    you must see some creibility in my thoughts or you wouldent get so wound up .

    like every thing there is always a lot more to it than most ppl see.
    besides its good for our govt because it takes the focas off border control.

  21. Lorikeet, these are the “left-handed, gay” Humanoid Frankenwhales we have heard so much of, over the years?
    Really, we must stop lampooning them.
    Or something like that.
    Just another species of “undeserving poor”, belly flopping out there in the oceans, gettng in the way of earnest folk like the Japanese and Norwegians, contribute nothing to growth with their foolish splashing about except around their girths.
    Put them to work towing prawn trawlers, I say!
    Ps, Your comment re Third World countries the other day has proved uncannily accurate, given what’s eventuated with Haiti.

  22. Red Crab:

    I’m not wound up about this topic – just looking at as many options as possible.

    Paul Walter:

    You are I are certainly on a different train of thought where the Humanoid Frankenwhales are concerned.

    What has happened in Haiti is truly horrific – a nightmare of the first order.

    But expect more cries of horror when people find out what is happening in our own country as a result of Julia Gillard’s industrial streamlining efforts.

  23. lorikeet
    have a read of andews comment to my question .
    if you read it carfully then you will see where i got my idea from if australia go,s to court over whaling and looses the side affects could be bad for this country.

    and as far as testing things go why not! didnt the french do that in our reagion. also the americans and the british.

    are not the japanese killing whales for reserch.

  24. heres a thought for you paul and lorikeet

    have either of you ever seen whaleing other than in books and on tv?

    i dont think so
    i have iv stood on the flensing deck at chains beach while it was operating and been up on the deck of an active whale chasser

    and for the record i have also eaten whale meat .

    iv seen it and its not something one forgets .it should be stopped.

    Just another species of “undeserving poor”, belly flopping out there in the oceans, gettng in the way of earnest folk like the Japanese and Norwegians, contribute nothing to growth with their foolish splashing about except around their girths.
    sounds like some academics and so called educated ppl i have encounterd over the years.

  25. Red Crab:

    Yes, I think they definitely have a brutal method of slaughter. The television version was enough for me.

  26. Red Crab:

    If the Japanese are allowed to do nuclear testing in Antarctic waters, they will completely blow the whales (and anything else within blasting distance) apart.

  27. Japan – and a heap of other countries – are a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty. This Treaty commits the signatory states to agree not to undertake military activity, including weapons testing of any sort, (let alone nuclear tests) in Antarctic waters.

    There is probably a range of reasons why Japan wants to continue whaling in Antarctic waters, but weapons testing would not be one of them.

  28. think about it its not hard
    weapons testing thats a joke .
    the thing is that if it go,s to court and australia looses it could theoreticly give japan and any other country open access to the southern waters .

    it would not just mean the end to a lot of whales but also posibly give them and any other country access to all other types of fishing.whithout any form of control.

    what a prize for a country that is possibly the biggest seafood consumer on the planet.

    but as always its just smoke and mirrors while the focas is on something that is emotional the focas is taken off something more important or something the govt wants to get done without to much fuss .
    or as a past queensland leader used to say feeding the chooks.

    how close to the truth is that andrew.

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