One of many families of whales we saw in range of the Japanese whaling fleet.
This is the tenth and final blog post in the series documenting the February to March 2008 leg of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling Antarctic campaign. Previous posts in the series are here. This last post is about observations and discoveries that came after the ship docked back in Melbourne, and facts about these discoveries that interested people would hopefully find useful.
After our ship came to port in Australia again, I had a lot of interesting encounters and discoveries about my trip. For instance, when I was finally able to get onto the internet on land again, I found that Japan had an entire webpage devoted to identifying us “terrorists” and demanding more military action against us.
The sign on the Nisshin Maru whaling factory ship says “Do not come aboard without captain’s permission.” And for a good time, see the icrwhale.org website.
And I met a lot of people while walking through the streets of Australia, while I was still wearing my Sea Shepherd crew uniform. Most people were in favor of Sea Shepherd, and some hated our guts and almost brawled with me because of it. But the most interesting thing I’ve gleaned from all my experiences coming back to land, is that almost no one in the general public, whether it be the anti or pro-whaling public, seems to understand the whaling issue that well.
I found that a lot of people who are even in favor of Sea Shepherd’s campaigns, didn’t know that whaling is illegal. And I found that people who were in favor of whaling had completely incorrect notions about international laws. To shed some light on the facts, I thought it’d be useful to finish this Antarctica blog by relaying a conversation that I had after coming back. The conversation was a typical exchange on the whaling debate’s facts and fictions. So after having given you tales of sea battles in past posts, hopefully this last post will also help fans and foes of Sea Shepherd know what they’re talking about when it comes to whales from now on.
Here’s how the conversation started. I went to a party recently where I met a Japanese person who was in favor of whaling. He put his hand behind my head and pulled me in front of his face and started saying loudly, “MMMM! Whale burgers, you should try one they’re GOOOOD! MMMM! Try a WHALE burger!” He obviously wasn’t trying to start an argument, he was simply trying to start a fight. In fact, my Japanese friend who was next to me (and whose party it was) started screaming back at him. The pro-whaling guy started giving the usual pro-whaling arguments, like it’s Japan’s tradition so they have a right to keep doing it, and my friend started yelling at him that Japan traditionally gives women no career options but some customs are damaging to its people and the world they try to live in. The pro-whaler would scream back that Americans are judgmental, and both sides would continue screaming at each other.
However, the screaming match was obviously not for a good reason, as it was to goad me into a fight, so I told the guy I actually wanted to hear his reasons why Japan has the right to whale. It took a while to get him to actually speak his reasons, but his answers were the usual answers I’ve heard in favor of whaling. Here are those usual reasons, and I’ve included my usual responses to them.
Reason #1: There are no actual laws against whaling.
Response: Tons of international laws make whaling illegal. The UN World Charter on Nature, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) all protect whales from commercial whaling.
On top of that, Japan is doing its whaling in the Australian Antarctic Territory, and Australia has passed a high federal court order outlawing whaling in that Territory. The Antarctic Treaty also says the Antarctic is a demilitarized zone, and Japan brings armed military with them as part of their whaling fleet, violating the demilitarized zone.
Here are the specifics of the IWC regulations that Japan is breaking, as outlined by Captain Paul Watson:
- The Japanese are whaling in violation of the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling. The IWC scientific committee announced it does not recognize Japan’s whaling activities as “research,” and thus Japan is not exempt from the commercial whaling ban.
- The IWC doesn’t just ban commercial whaling, the IWC specifically bans whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary where Japan whales.
- The Japanese are in violation of IWC regulation 19. (a) The IWC regulations in the Schedule to the Convention forbid the use of factory ships to process any protected stock: 19. (a) It is forbidden to use a factory ship or a land station for the purpose of treating any whales which are classified as Protection Stocks in paragraph 10. Paragraph 10(c) provides a definition of Protection Stocks and states that Protection Stocks are listed in the Tables of the Schedule. Table 1 lists all the baleen whales, including minke, fin and humpback whales and states that all of them are Protection Stocks. The main ship in the Japanese whaling fleet is the Nisshin Maru, the whaling fleet factory ship, which allows the fleet to kill 1,000 whales a year at sea at a time.
- In addition, the IWC regulations specifically ban the use of factory ships to process any whales except minke whales: Paragraph 10(d) provides: (d) Notwithstanding the other provisions of paragraph 10 there shall be a moratorium on the taking, killing or treating of whales, except minke whales, by factory ships or whale catchers attached to factory ships. This moratorium applies to sperm whales, killer whales and baleen whales, except minke whales.
A typical sight in the Southern Oceans. A whale couple brings their calf to see the humans, and they swim alongside our ship. Whales have an innate trust and love of humans; most will try to their dying breath not to hurt a human, even when threatened by aggressive people. This has unfortunately been the whales’ undoing.
Reason #2: These laws don’t apply to Japan and it’s not fair to say they do, since Japan has been whaling for a long time. For you to sit on your high horse, and wave your foreign laws over Japan, is just judgmental and you have no right to say such things. And furthermore, they’re whaling in International Waters, as Australia has no claim to any territory in the Antarctic.
Response: If America and a few other countries decided to bully on Japan and say “stop your whaling! We deem it bad and thus you’re not allowed to do it either!” Then yeah, you’d have a point. However, Japan is a signing member of these laws. Japan is a charter member of CITES. Japan is a member country of the International Whaling Commission.
And, whether you or I think Japan is violating Australian waters is moot, since Japan is also a signing member of the Antarctic Treaty. Thus, Japan itself has agreed that it is in Australian waters and a demilitarized zone.
If you sign a law, saying you’ll abide by it, and then you break it, you’ve broken the law.
Reason #3: Well, I consider it the way I do the Kyoto Protocol. A bunch of countries signed that but no one really cares if a country doesn’t pay attention to it all the time.
Response: Over a hundred countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol with the intention to participate, but the signing countries have no obligation beyond monitoring their emissions, and reporting the results. Individual sovereign governments can decide their own level of participation. The Kyoto Protocol is a framework, with a set of principles. The principles are often specific, and refer to payments and international relations, but the Protocol does not require any country to obey these principles as laws.
Bans on commercial whaling aren’t “protocols,” and the IWC is not a set of principles. The IWC is an actual legislative Commission on whaling regulations. A Commission’s regulations are laws that its members must follow.
However, let’s say they’re all just trade treaties, rather than legislative Commissions that create laws that signing members need to follow. Then, your assumption is that it is ethical or right, to simply break an agreement with other countries that you’ve signed. But is that true?
The crew of the South Korean long-lining vessel In Sung No. 2, stare at us defiantly as we filmed and photographed them illegally poaching Patagonian toothfish. A lot of countries and businesses believe it’s their right to decide their level of law compliance.
Reason #4: But if Japan is a sovereign country, and you’re just some guy thousands of miles away and not even a Japanese citizen, you have no right to say “I think you should follow this law if I disagree with your national policy!” and engage in illegal acts to stop them. You’re eco-terrorists.
Response: We don’t engage in illegal activities. I have the right to stop illegal Japanese commercial whaling, and so do you. The UN World Charter for Nature gives every individual on earth the right to stop poaching and the destruction of nature that breaks UN conservation laws. You have the right to stop it if you are able to do so, and if you’re not in a jurisdiction that forbids your specific actions.
You may think that blocking whaling vessels and tossing chemicals onto their whaling decks so they can’t use them is illegal. But if you want to take Japan’s side, they themselves have declared that they’re whaling in international waters, and have announced they thus have no legal recourse against people (like us on Sea Shepherd ships) who interfere with their operations. They’ve thus simply lodged complaints against Australia for allowing us to use their harbors, since there is nothing legal they can do against us directly. They have threatened to extradite me and put me on trial in Japan for being a pirate. But I was never worried that they’d even actually try, since they have no legal claim against me or anything I’ve done. Japan has an extradition treaty with the US they could exercise at any time if I did do something illegal. If what Japan says is true, and I’m somehow a terrorist pirate who is a threat to their security, do you think they’d simply say, “Eh, terrorism and threats to our national security isn’t THAT big a deal, let’s not bother exercising that extradition treaty even though we said we would.”
While their soldiers fight us, their crew film us to gather any evidence of illegal activity to bring criminal charges against us. They are never able to get any such evidence or bring up any charges, however, no matter how much they try.
Reason #5: Regardless of the international community’s opinions, Japan has a long-held tradition of whaling. It would be wrong to expect them or ask them to give it up, since it’s their culture, regardless of which Commission or UN Charter they’re members of.
Response: Do you seriously want to live in a world where no one obeys the law if it disagrees with things they’ve done in the past? Where people keep oppressing or killing against the law, their reason being “they used to do it in the past?” Do you aspire to a world where countries sign treaties with each other and form laws together, with no country having any intention of following any of the laws? Has the world become a better place since we stopped obeying Geneva Conventions, since we feel like torturing Iraqi prisoners now? We have a grand tradition of winning wars at all costs, so no one should expect us to act differently despite any silly Conventions or treaties we’ve signed, right?
Reason #6: I’m sick of every little environmental infraction compared to war crimes and other actual serious issues.
Response: Once again, whether or not we think they’re equivalent is moot. Whether or not we deem any international law as “important” and worthy of being followed, is moot. There’s no hierarchy to international laws. There aren’t some international poaching laws considered “misdemeanors.” The whole point to an international law is that countries of the world have deemed it a serious enough issue for our long-term survival to make a law about it.
Let’s say you disagree with that, and assume every anti-whaling law in the world is made by Japan-hating anti-whaling factions. Well, would you agree with countries that have long-standing whaling traditions like Japan? The IWC is the only Commission in the world originally made up of whaling countries that WANT a legal commercial whaling industry. This is an originally pro-whaling Commission made up of whaling countries, created to manage world commercial whaling. Yet, this pro-whaling Commission deemed the whaling problem so bad, that it has banned commercial whaling. Keep that in mind. It’s such a not-minor, serious problem to the people who are pro-commercial-whaling, that they themselves originally banned commercial whaling. Even though Japan has been wooing landlocked countries like Mongolia with monetary incentives to join the IWC and vote to legalize whaling again, they still don’t have nearly enough votes among IWC member countries to overturn the ban on whaling.
The pro-whaling guy I talked to at the party walked off in a huff after a while. His reasons eventually dissolved into statements like “Look, I have no idea, it just ISN’T illegal, ok?” And he got frustrated and left. However, he came back maybe an hour later. He came up to me saying, “I want to apologize. I attacked you and I shouldn’t have done that. I just had no idea of the other side of the issue. I think you guys are doing amazing work.” A big part of the point of this story is that, in addition to taking direct action to stop whaling, we need to know what we’re talking about, and be willing to open dialogs with people we find distasteful, if we really want to change minds and end the whaling faster.
Well, I hope these posts were able to teach you something you didn’t know before about what’s happening in the world of poaching. My next Sea Shepherd trip is to represent the crew at Gatecon in Vancouver in August. And my next anti-poaching Sea Shepherd campaign is in September. I shouldn’t really say much about that trip until I come back from it. But hopefully then I’ll have some more interesting blog posts, pictures, and anti-poaching facts for you all. I also hope that these posts encourage you to believe that ANYONE (ie you) could also stop poaching around the world; you have the right, and you have the ability. You just have to realize it and go somewhere you want the killing to stop. So you can go beyond simple veganism to help save animals. You can all be Supervegans and save the whales. :)