Conservationists Take Aim at Japanese Whalers in the Southern Ocean

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, November 21, 2005 (ENS) - Heading south from Cape Town to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the Greenpeace ships Esperanza and Arctic Sunrise are hunting the Japanese whale hunters. The two ships left port Sunday afternoon under police escort, accompanied by smaller Greenpeace boats and a helicopter, with "Defending The Whales" banners flying from the railings.

Greenpeace is using this first leg of a year-long the expedition to defend the whales from the lethal whale kill that the Japanese call scientific research, and call for an end to the expanding hunt.

In the face of international protest and repeated calls from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to stop the annual hunt, this year the Fisheries Agency of Japan intends to more than double its catch of minke whales to a maximum of 935.

Also this year, Japanese harpooners will set their sights on 10 fin whales. Next year the Japanese plan to take an additional 40 fin whales as well as 50 humpbacks, both endangered species.


The Greepeace ships Esperanza in the foreground, and Arctic Sunrise, head out to sea from Cape Town on Sunday. (Photo © Greenpeace/Sutton-Hibbert)
“Even though the ban on commercial whaling has been agreed, the international community has failed to stop the hunt. Starting with the easiest whales to catch, vast whaling fleets have pushed one species after another to the brink of extinction," said Shane Rattenbury, head of Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign.

"The persecution of the great whales is a tragic echo of what is happening throughout our oceans,” Rattenbury said.

Pointing to a report by the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, Greenpeace says the seas have reached a tipping point, with many species of fish, birds and mammals being pressured toward extinction.

In response, Greenpeace is launching is most ambitious voyage, an expedition by ship that will take more than a year to complete.

In the Esperanza, Greenpeacers plan to journey through four oceans over 14 months, mapping and demonstrating the urgent need for a global network of marine reserves.

"Every second breath we take comes from the oceans," Greenpeace says, "they give the planet half of its oxygen. In return we suffocate them with pollution, warm them with climate change and empty them of fish."

Greenpeace is calling for 40 percent of the world’s oceans to be designated as marine reserves. A global network of marine reserves would cost $12 billion dollars a year, the organization says, the same as is spent annually on perfume in the United States and Europe.

“Only through establishing and enforcing a vast network of marine reserves can we reverse the decline and guarantee our children’s right to inherit healthy seas,” said Rattenbury.


The Japanese base whaler Nisshin-maru (Photo courtesy Institute for Cetecean Reserach)
To help in the campaign Greenpeace is hoping to gather a million Ocean Defenders - supporters who will join the call for action - over the 14 month course of the expedition.

The Esperanza, the newest of the Greenpeace ships, is fitted with new hi-tech equipment for the voyage, including a 24/7 Internet connection that will enable the ship to interact with supporters.

Also aboard are below the water line cameras, a Remote Operating Vehicle camera, and web cams. The crew will be blogging, podcasting and vlogging, or video blogging, from the ship and producing programs for the newly created web-based Greenpeace TV.

Heading out of Cape Town, the Greenpeace ships passed a mock version of an historic Greenpeace vessel, the first Rainbow Warrior, part of a movie set for a French film about Greenpeace history.

Crew member Andrew, on the blog, said, "It makes you think about all of the people - with Greenpeace, with other groups and just on their own - who over the years have put time and effort into defending our oceans."

The other group sending a ship into the Southern Ocean this whaling season is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).

The Sea Shepherd campaign will begin in December when the group's flagship the Farley Mowat departs from Melbourne, Australia, on a course south to the coast of Antarctica. Their objective will be "to hunt down the Japanese whaling fleet and harrass, block, obstruct, and intervene against their illegal whaling operations," says Captain Paul Watson.

In June of 1975, Greenpeace co-founders Watson and the late Bob Hunter became the first people to risk their lives to protect a whale when they placed themselves in a inflatable Zodiac to block the deadly harpoons of the Soviet whaling fleet. In 1977, Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Society and has conducted many protest actions on behalf of whales, seals and dolphins aboard a variety of SSSC vessels, but not this time.


The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Farley Mowat, named after the Canadian author and environmentalist who penned "A Whale for the Killing." The ship is in the Southern Ocean in 2002 looking for Japanese whalers. (Photo courtesy SSCS)
"Sea Shepherd is not going to the water of Antarctica to protest whaling," says Watson. "We are going there to intervene with the purpose of upholding international laws protecting the whales. The Japanese whale kill is illegal and we will be acting in accordance with the United Nations World Charter for Nature in our intervention."

The Sea Shepherd says the Japanese are violating the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. They are violating the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling. They are targeting endangered fin and humpback whales that are protected under the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species. The Japanese are also in violation of the Australian laws protecting the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters.

This will be Sea Shepherd's second attempt at searching for this fleet. "The lesson we learned from our first attempt is that to be successful, we require aerial surveillance," says Watson of the group's 2002 voyage. "This year we intend have air power and that is one of the priority goals for our fundraising efforts."

For the next week or so Watson and crew aboard the Farley Mowat are sailing from Pitcairn Island in southeastern Polynesia to Wellington, New Zealand

For their part the Japanese maintain that there is abundance of minke whales in the Southern Ocean. The Japanese Institute for Cetecean Reserach says that since the mid-1980s its ships have conducted a systematic collection of scientific data on Antarctic minke whale, and the government decided to launch the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA), with the purpose of paving the way to achieve sustainable use of whale resources.

The Japanese whaling fleet of six vessels left the port of Shimonoseki in western Japan on November 8.

The Japanese maintain their whaling is permitted by the International Whaling Commission as scientific research. The government's JARPA II program, which began this season, will focus on Antarctic minke whale and the larger species, humpback and fin whales. The Institute says the main purpose of JARPA II is to monitor the Antarctic ecosystem.

If the whale conservationists can locate the Japanese whalers in the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean, there may be more than ecosystem action to monitor.