Saturday 08 February 2014

Whale poachers and their pursuers back in the Southern Ocean

The waters of the Southern Ocean have once again become the location for two perennial battles. One, the relentless whale hunt by the Japanese, is a one-sided affair with the odds entirely in the hunters’ favour. The other is the engagement of the Japanese fleet by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in an effort to disrupt the hunt.

Perhaps more important than restricting the whalers’ success is simply the presence on the killing grounds of Sea Shepherd and their cameras. That’s what ensures media coverage; that’s what attracts the public’s attention to the scientific whaling scam.

Although an International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling remains in force, Japan’s Antarctic whaling program (JARPA) is conducted via a “special permit whaling” loophole. Under a scientific whaling permit issued directly by the Japanese Government, up to 935 minke and 50 fin whales will be slaughtered. The JARPA program also calls for 50 humpback whales, although it is not known whether these will be taken this season.

On the morning of Sunday 2 February, not for the first time, a whaling vessel and Sea Shepherd vessel the Bob Barker came into contact. The collision occurred in New Zealand territorial waters, with each skipper blaming the other.

Because the Bob Barker sails under the Dutch flag, Japan has asked the Netherlands Government to conduct a formal investigation into what it calls “extremely dangerous sabotage”.

In the meantime the hunt and the pursuit continue, with some of the vessels expected to enter Australian territorial waters this weekend.

In 2008 the Federal Court declared that Japanese whaling in Australia’s Antarctic waters is unlawful under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Like many nations, Japan does not formally recognize Australia’s Antarctic claim. However, it has not formally challenged it either. In the interests of international diplomacy, they should at least respect it.


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