January
11th 2010
Escalating whale wars

Posted under news

This is probably blog post # 567,893 on this topic since the destruction of the Ady Gil in the Antarctic. The internet has been abuzz with postings: news, videos, opinion pieces all over the map. Here’s one more.

The internet has been abuzz with postings: news, videos, opinion pieces all over the map. Here’s one more.
I’ve long had a sort of mixed feeling about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. For one thing, I respect people who are willing to put their lives on the line for a matter for which they feel such passion. Because that matter is whales, and their survival, they are certainly on my radar more prominently than other conservation concerns. I know that the SSCS can be a source of consternation for other conservation groups, too, with the mixed blessing of calling attention to an important issue but doing so in a frequently very dangerous manner. The TV show Whale Wars has certainly
If there is a good thing, as Andy Rivkin put, it, does a whale being harpooned with no witness get heard”, awareness. Bt how much awareness is happening where it counts most, in Japan?
Japan is notoriously resistent to Western influence on this matter. I once commented to Bill Clinton, when Hillary was running for president, that if she won the White House, to pressure Japan to stop whaling. His response was that this was the one issue that they were really defenseive about. It’s known that the Japanese people are fairly indeiffernt to the issue of whaling. Is it that they truly do not know what is happening, how much the whales sffer in teh killing?
If the Japanese people beomc more aware and more vocal about a resistance to this slaughtr, will that be the fina piece neeeded to end this cruel practice there>?
And what wll it take to also end the commercial whaling by Norway and Iceland?
Yes, whales need this war. Most successful movements for change are a result of a combination of approaches – the loud and visible to keep it on the radar, and the quieter efforts to effect one on one change. I sincerely hope this war does not escalate to the loss of human life on either side.

I will start by saying that I’ve long had a sort of mixed feeling about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). For one thing, I respect people who are willing to put their lives on the line for a matter for which they feel such passion. Because this matter is whales and their survival, it’s certainly on my radar more prominently than many other conservation concerns. And I respect that people ARE willing to go to these lengths to stop whaling. I don’t think I could make the sacrifices that they do.

I also know that the SSCS can be a source of consternation for other conservation groups, too, with the mixed blessing of calling attention to an important issue but doing so in a frequently very dangerous manner. The TV show Whale Wars has certainly brought the activity of whaling before a lot more people than would have otherwise been aware of it. There’s also a very good book on the same topic, from the whaling season before the TV show began, The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller. He went out with them for a season and wrote about the experience, from the perspective of relative objectivity so it’s not all “rah rah SSCS” but still with respect for them and their devotion. Through all of these avenues,  I think that SSCS is calling valuable attention to a serious issue, even though their tactics are heavy handed.

Andy Rivkin of DotEarth at the New York Times has posted a great piece about this whole event, Video Views of a Violent Clash Over Whaling. My favorite quote summarizes why it is important that someone be there to monitor the whale slaughters: “If a whale is hit by an exploding harpoon near Antarctica and the world doesn’t have a way to witness that, does it make a sound?” It can take a harpooned whale half an hour to die. Whales have been increasingly, repeatedly, shown to be sentient, feeling animals and there is no truly humane way to kill a whale. In what culture is it ok to cause such cruelty to get meat? Does that alone warrant the escalation of tactics in the Antarctic Ocean?

Greenpeace no longer sends ships down there. When they did, it was only to observe, and they did not attempt to stop the whaling, just document it. Australia and New Zealand send no ships down there to witness or monitor the whaling activities. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to witness the harpooning of whales and do nothing. So it’s understandable that the passions of the SSCS crews call for action. There’s just no clear way to draw the line for what action is “enough” or when it crosses the line into truly dangerous action that puts human lives at risk. I know that the crews of the SSCS ships are aware of the risks they face on these voyages, but I also wonder – if someone on their crew did lose a life, would it change anything? Japan has such an increasingly aggressive stance that they would likely applaud such loss and blame SSCS for whatever happened to “cause” it.  Paul Watson proudly touts how they have never lost or caused the loss of a life in these campaigns (“Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd’s Stern ‘Warrior’ Defies Japanese Whalers“) but the actions of him and his crew are razor close to leading to loss of human life. And now the whalers are demonstrating how willing they are to toe that razor thin line themselves. Is hyperbole overriding reason to the point of no return, no resolution?

Japan is notoriously resistent to Western influence on this matter. I once commented to Bill Clinton, when Hillary Clinton was running for president, that if she won the White House, to please pressure Japan to stop whaling. His response was that this was the one issue that they were really defensive about. As Philip Hoare wrote in relation to this event in Anti-Whalers Collide Over Tactics, it will take calmer heads and actions far away from the whaling grounds to finally resolve this. While the SSCS wants to hit the whalers where it hurts, in the economics of hunting, Japan has shown itself  to be consistently stubborn and has even started to drop the pretense of the “scientific” research. This is well covered in a recent editorial from Australia, Ram Raid On The High Seas, which also calls out the Australian government for  their appallingly consistent lack of actual action on the issue. It’s known that the Japanese people are fairly indifferent to the issue of whaling. Is it that they truly do not know what is happening, how much the whales suffer in the killing? I don’t want to sound too jaded, but would it matter to them if they DID know?

There’s a recent interview with the Bob Barker’s captain, Chuck Swift, which provides a sort of “in the field” look at the after effects of this event on the Ady Gil’s crew. Getting run over by a ship far more massive than your own is going to be traumatic. It’s also going to make your opponents dig their heels and fight harder. It’s just an escalating stand off.

If the Japanese people become more aware and more vocal about a resistance to this slaughter, will that be the final piece neeeded to end this cruel practice there? Greenpeace is on the ground there trying to open and change minds. I wish they were also continuing to send ships to the Antarctic, but at least something is happening in Japan. SSCS would have no luck on that front since they are reviled there.

And what will it take to also end the commercial whaling by Norway and Iceland?

Yes, I believe that whales need this war. Most successful movements for change are a result of a combination of approaches – the loud and visible to keep it on the radar, and the quieter efforts to effect change. I sincerely hope this war does not escalate to the loss of human life on either side. Another piece by someone who has been there (independently of SSCS) and tangled with the whaling ships cautions against this escalating war: Do Whales Need This War? Progressively more violent encounters put more lives at risk as well as potentially causing ecological harm to the Antarctic environment (sinking ships = fuel spills, contaminants etc. The Ady Gil was offloaded with their contaminants before it sank because there was time to do so. That’s a luxury that is rarely found especially in so unforgiving a place as the Antarctic.)

Meanwhile, stepping up the verbal-only rhetoric again, Australia told Japan to stop whaling. It’s going to take more than just SAYING it, folks, you gotta put your money where your apparent determination is. Since Japan does not even recognize Australia’s claims on the waters in which it goes whaling, I think its going to require more decisive action than just a memo and a finger wagging. Japan is “fighting back” by accusing Australian Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard of siding with SSCS because she called for calm on BOTH sides of the action (Japan Pins Whale Row on Gillard). Seems that if you are not with Japan or passively accepting heir illegal whaling, you are against them.

I have no idea what the answer is. To me, first step is for Australia to do what it has been threatening and start legal action to immediately end the whaling activities before more whales die. Then, cooler heads on ALL sides need to sit down and figure out how to end commercial whaling. That needs to include Norway and Iceland as well. It’s easy for me to sit here and say these things, thousands of miles away from any of the action. Meanwhile, I am glad SSCS is there to witness the killing and make sure we do not forget that it is going on. I just sincerely hope that things have not/do not reach a point where circumstances push tempers to where heels get dug in so deeply that nothing changes and whales keep dying.

5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Escalating whale wars”

  1. Dolphin on 11 Jan 2010 at 3:46 am #

    Amy,

    You are a gifted writer :-) I hope to see you posting here more frequently as what you have to offer is just tremendous.

    This is a very well thought out and written post.

    I have mixed feelings about going the diplomatic route however. It’s been done in the past to no avail. Lots of talk has equaled very little action. Whereas, taking direct action is resulting in more talk and publicity now, in addition to a helluva lot more awareness. At least that’s how I see it.

    If you don’t mind, I am going to share your post on my blog and direct people here to read it as well. In addition, could I have your permission to share your post link on the SSCS Facebook discussion page?

    Keep up the great work. I know there is a lot out there on this subject, but I personally like reading the personal blogs versus the news sites because, as the word “personal” conveys – it’s just more personal ;-)

    Dolphin

  2. whalegeek on 11 Jan 2010 at 5:07 am #

    Dolphin, you are very kind, thank you! Please feel free to share the post. I don’t know what to expect from it’s going on the SSCS Facebook page (guess I’d better become a fan!)

    I understand what you mean about the diplomatic route. I think perhaps the difference this time is that more eyes of the world are upon the situation. It can’t be simply brushed under the rug of an IWC meeting. Pressure will continue to build, and it appears that key momentum is growing in Australia. These factors can make a difference now, I think.

    Thanks!

    Amy

  3. Dolphin on 11 Jan 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Amy,

    I started a new discussion topic in the SSCS Facebook discussion area titled “Blog Posts on SSCS” and shared the link to your article here. :-)

    Might be a great way to network with other like minded bloggers too and help one another to increase awareness and to share our own individual and varying degrees of passion on marine mammal issues.

    Thanks again for writing such a well written post. As I said, I hope to see you writing more!

    P.S. Do check out SSCS Facebook page … I find many of the comments to be as interesting as the stuff shared, although as with any place, there are a diversity of viewpoints, both good and bad lol

  4. Tom on 07 Nov 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    The anti-whalers are simply eco-terrorists. I am certainly a nature lover but I must stop short of endorsing the terrorist tactics of these idiots trying to impose their will on the Japanese fisherman simply trying to earn a wage to feed their families. Who died and made these terrorists God ???

  5. Heath on 13 Jun 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Working on a doc. degree and doing an analysis on the effects of Whale Wars on whale conservation efforts. Does anyone have any pointers on research based documents that may be useful to put this together.

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