Victory for Sea Shepherd as whale catch halved
The Japanese whaling fleet caught half its quota this year thanks to harassment from activists
The Japanese whaling fleet has returned from the Antarctic with its smallest catch for years, blaming "violent interference" from the militant Sea Shepherd conservation group.
The whalers' final total of 506 minke whales and one fin whale was well short of its 935 target – and the lowest on record after the 2006-07 season when the fleet had to return home early with just 505 whales after a fire broke out on a Japanese ship.
Shigetoshi Nishiwaki of the Institute of Cetacean Research, the body that conducted the Antarctic whaling expedition, told reporters: "Anger is the word."
He added that Sea Shepherd activists "say they protect the sea but they don't care about leaking oil or leaving pieces of a broken ship behind". He was referring to an incident in January when Sea Shepherd’s powerboat the Ady Gil was sliced in two by a Japanese whaling ship.
In all, the ICR says it lost 31 days of fishing due to Sea Shepherd activities. The environmentalists claim the Japanese whaling fleet needs to kill at least 700 whales just to break even on expenses.
Chuck Swift, captain of the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, said: "We absolutely did paralyze their despicable operations for 31 days, and I am ecstatic to finally have official Japanese acknowledgment of our success."
Sea Shepherd will see the figures as a vindication of their aggressive tactics, which since 1979 have included scuttling and ramming other ships, using lasers to temporarily blind whalers and throwing harmless but foul-smelling butyric acid bombs.
With Japanese ships deploying sonic crowd control devices and water cannon, the annual confrontation between the whalers and environmentalists in the Southern Ocean has been referred to as the 'whale wars'.
This year's poor whaling catch may come as a relief to some in Japan. Although the country catches cetaceans ostensibly for scientific purposes, whale meat is allowed to be sold in restaurants under International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules.
Demand is low - partly because of concerns over mercury poisoning, but also because it just doesn't taste that good. In 2009, the country had stockpiled nearly 5,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat - some of which has been served up to schoolchildren to offload it. Meanwhile the ICR has been subsidised by Tokyo to the tune of $150m since 1988. In Norway, the price of whale is far lower than beef or reindeer meat – a sure sign that demand is low.
Commercial realities along with pressure from Australia, which is threatening legal action against Japan if it continues to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean, may explain why Tokyo has proposed reducing its Antarctic quotas in return for increased fishing around its coast. Whalers also enjoy more protection in Japanese waters against the aggressive tactics of Sea Shepherd, whose crews, sailing under the group's modified Jolly Roger flag, have more leeway in the international waters of the Southern Ocean.
The IWC will consider Japan's proposal when it meets in June - along with a plan to end the ban on commercial whaling in return for a reduction in quotas from the whaling nations Iceland, Norway and Japan. ·
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