Keeping the Focus on the Southern Oceans and the Whales

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Despite all of the drama surrounding the confrontations between the Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd, we must never lose sight of the focus of this campaign.

Our objective is to end illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Drama serves to put issues into the spotlight but should never take the spotlight away from the issues.

The Japanese continually try to distract from the issue with their ridiculous charges of eco-terrorism and condemnation of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Of course Japan condemns the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. And the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society condemns illegal Japanese whaling. That's clear - we both condemn each other's positions.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) last week condemned the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for protecting whales. It does not mean much. Last year the IWC condemned Japan for illegal whaling in the waters of Antarctica. The Japanese did not take heed of the IWC condemnation nor will Sea Shepherd.

Talk has been going back and forth about Japan laying charges against Sea Shepherd or Sea Shepherd laying charges against Japan. It's all talk. Sea Shepherd did not injure anyone nor did we damage any property. We simply harassed and chased an illegal whaling operation and prevented them from taking half their illegal quota. And it is pointless for Sea Shepherd to lay charges against the Japanese whalers because it will simply go nowhere.

Last year when Japan claimed that Sea Shepherd rammed their whaling vessel Keiko Maru and Sea Shepherd claimed that it was the Keiko Maru that rammed the Robert Hunter, a forensic investigation team from the Australian Federal Police spent days on the Robert Hunter gathering evidence. Nothing more was heard about the case.

The fact is that ships not registered in Australia have been in confrontation in waters off the coast of Australia which Australia claims but which Japan does not recognize as an Australian claim. The situation involves numerous nationalities. Sea Shepherd did not damage any property or injure any person. Armed Japanese Coast Guard were in Australian waters without permission of the Australian government and in violation of the Antarctic Treaty over an issue that involves Japanese violations of an Australian Federal Court order prohibiting whaling in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone and in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the regulations of the International Whaling Commission. It is a jurisdictional nightmare involving international law, Australian law, Japanese law etc.

Any attempts to bring charges on either side would take up millions of dollars of tax payer's money and in the end would resolve absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile, there just may be a solution to ending illegal whaling in the Southern Oceans.

Discussions are taking place within the IWC on a deal put forward by the United States that would end Japanese "research" whaling in the Southern Ocean.

The plans were drawn up at a meeting in February by the governments of Argentina and the Netherlands, but given support in-principle only last week in London at a closed door three-day meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

The plans call for the IWC to give Japan a legal commercial hunt in the North Pacific in waters close to Japan.

This would mean a legal kill of 150 Minke or what we call Piked whales.

In exchange the Japanese would abandon their so called "research" in the waters of the Southern Ocean.

Although the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is opposed to all whaling in principle, Sea Shepherd activities are directed against illegal operations. This means that Sea Shepherd would not send ships to oppose an IWC legally sanctioned whale hunt off of Japan.

It would mean that a thousand whales a year would be spared from a horrific death from Japanese harpoons in the Southern Ocean. It would also mean that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary would in fact be a Sanctuary and not just a sanctuary in name only.

Britain has indicated it would back this compromise over the whaling near Japan's shores and not elsewhere, with the British seeing "playing for a draw" the best option with a win not possible.

This compromise would put an end to the annual confrontation in the waters of the Southern Oceans.

I would be relieved to not have to come down to these waters again to battle the Japanese whalers. But we will begin preparation to return and we will be ready to return if Japan refuses to accept this compromise. We must abolish whaling in the Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary. We cannot retreat from this position.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has just completed its fourth annual campaign to the Southern Ocean. Campaigns in 2002/2003 and again in 2005/2006, 2006/2007, and 2007/2008 have seen Sea Shepherd returning each year stronger and more determined than the year before.

Our goal for next year is to secure a 3rd ship and to keep on the tail of the Japanese fleet from the beginning of the season until the end of the season. This year the Japanese whaling fleet did not even get half their quota. Our objective next year will be 100%.

Can we do it? Yes, given the support, two ships, our helicopter, and two dedicated and courageous crews of volunteers, we will be able to stop the whale killers before they kill again.

And if the Japanese decide to pull out and accept the compromise to leave the waters of the Southern Oceans in peace, then we will transfer our preparations and set our sights on targeting the continued illegal whaling operations off the coast of Norway.

I have been fighting whalers since 1974 which is all of my adult life. I would dearly love to see whaling abolished before I die and if that means spending the remainder of my days fighting whalers on the high seas than that is what it will be.