Will Australia Surrender the Whales to Japan?

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

Captain Paul Watson Responds to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an opinion piece by Anthony Bergin that certainly reads like a capitulation to Japanese whaling interests. Captain Paul Watson comments on this piece below:
Don't Mention the Whales (Sydney Morning Herald. June 6th, 2008.)

By Anthony Bergin

Kevin Rudd begins a four-day visit to Japan this Sunday. He would be well advised to play down the emotional issue of whaling in his talks in Tokyo and focus on broader aspects of the bilateral relationship, such as building on the Japan-Australia joint declaration on security co-operation concluded last year.

Captain Paul Watson: There is nothing emotional about upholding international conservation law. It is in fact a legal obligation of signatory nations to international conventions to uphold such laws. Mr. Bergin's agenda is apparent with his reference to focusing on the security issue because that will in fact undermine the freedom of Australians to oppose illegal Japanese whaling. If Japan labels anti-whaling activists as terrorists then Australia would be obliged to restrict and obstruct anti-whaling activities as part of this agreement with Japan.

Mr. Rudd recently said we should use every diplomatic mechanism available to us to end Japanese whaling and continue to examine the legal options available to Australia.

But it is hard to see any way that Australia, with our hard-line anti-whaling stance, can reach any compromise with Tokyo on this dispute. Indeed there is some evidence that our boots-and-all approach has only hardened Japan's whaling stance.

Captain Paul Watson: What Mr. Bergin is saying is that if Australia cannot beat Japan then Australia should capitulate to Japan's demands. Thankfully Mr. Bergin was not in any position to make decisions in 1942. Japan had a very hard-line political stance towards dominating Australia and it was the harder line stance of Australia that beat back Japanese dominance.

The Japanese Government at home is dealing with entrenched bureaucratic and political support for whaling. There has never been any dissent on the whaling issue in the Japanese Diet.

Captain Paul Watson: There was never any dissent until this year when for the first time publicity on this issue was generated by Sea Shepherd activism in the Southern Ocean. We made the Japanese public aware of illegal Japanese whaling operations and we had a Japanese citizen participate in the opposition to whaling as a crewmember and for the first time there is now a debate in Japan. Australia's vocal opposition to whaling has contributed greatly to this debate. The entrenched bureaucratic and political support can be overcome. This is a cowardly and defeatist attitude on the part of Mr. Bergin.

Australia opposition to Japanese whaling has become a major diplomatic issue between the two countries. It is been a mistake, however, for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, and the Prime Minister to be making the Australian running on this matter, rather than allowing the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, deal with it as an environmental and natural resource issue.

Captain Paul Watson: I do agree that Mr. Garrett should be the lead man on this issue just as Senator Ian Campbell was the lead man opposing whaling with the Howard government.

The Japanese are realists: they recognize that Mr. Rudd has got a problem of satisfying Australian public opinion on this issue. However, Tokyo feels that with the deployment of an Australian customs vessel to the Southern Ocean and releasing pictures of Japanese whaling last year, especially the sight of a minke whale and calf being winched up the ramp of a factory ship, Canberra has moved outside what is acceptable diplomatic behaviour and the kind of actions needed to satisfy Australian community anti-whaling views.

Captain Paul Watson: The Japanese may be realists but they are also criminals and Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is illegal under the regulations of the International Whaling Commission, (IWC) the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Antarctic Treaty. It is also illegal under Australian law to hunt whales in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone. Australia has every right to uphold Australian law in Australian waters and that fact has nothing to do with diplomacy and everything to do with defending Australian sovereignty. The Rudd government promised the Australian people action on opposing illegal Japanese whaling and the government must be responsive first to the wishes of the Australian people before making diplomatic niceties with Japan.

The International Whaling Commission is supposed to offer an opportunity for talks, but it has ceased to function effectively because it has been divided into two groups: pro-whaling countries, including Japan, and anti-whaling countries, including Australia.

Captain Paul Watson: It is confusing to me how critics of the IWC like Mr. Bergin can accuse the IWC of ceasing to function effectively simply because the IWC has not given Japan, Norway and Iceland what they want. The IWC has not been divided into two groups. The fact is that more than two-thirds of the membership of the IWC opposes commercial whaling. The majority of the membership has spoken in a clearly democratic manner to oppose whaling. Mr. Bergin is suggesting that the majority capitulate to the minority and surrender the whales to the whaling nations.

Some Japanese officials even suggest that if we try and back Japan into a corner, then they will move to establish a new international institution to replace the commission. This would not be a desirable outcome as far as Australia is concerned: it could result in the resumption of full-scale commercial whaling.

Captain Paul Watson: Any attempt by Japan to leave the IWC and set up an alternative organization to support whaling will be fruitless for Japan. Such a body will not be recognized and will be considered a renegade institution. Australia would in fact have more legal authority to oust such a body from Australian waters than they have now. The IWC is the only whaling regulatory body recognized by the United Nations and full scale commercial whaling will not be tolerated outside the wishes of the IWC.

Australia's surveillance of whaling activities by Japan has little or no chance of halting the Japanese whaling program. Japan simply does not want to stop whaling. It is a government-sponsored industry, with tonnes of frozen whale meat stored unused in Japanese warehouses.

Captain Paul Watson: Japan was intent upon invading Australia in 1942. They did not succeed. This kind of defeatist attitude is cowardly and should be dismissed as such. Mr. Bergin admits that the whale meat is being stored without markets and admits that there is no commercial validity to whaling yet he is willing to sell off the whales for the purpose of appeasing Japanese pseudo patriotism.

Decision-making on whaling is in the hands of Japan's Fisheries Agency, and it fears that if Japan caves in to outside pressure then it would be the thin edge of the wedge and lead to the imposition of a stronger regulatory environment for Japanese fishing activities, in particular global efforts to curtail their distant-water tuna fishing industry.

Captain Paul Watson: The point is that there is indeed a need for stronger regulatory control over out of control Japanese fishing activities. Japanese fishing vessel are presently engaged in looting the waters around the entire planet. Their tuna fisheries are driving the tuna towards extinction. Both Japanese illegal whaling and their illegal fishing activities must be stopped. I don't think that Mr. Bergin is aware of how dire the situation in the world's oceans presently is. Every single commercial fishing operation is in a state of commercial collapse. This is simply a bush meat trade where species are being removed faster than they can reproduce and it is sheer ecological lunacy to allow this on-going rape of the seas to continue.

For Japan, whaling is about the sustainable use of wildlife. Attempts to impose anti-whaling norms on Japan is typified as a kind of cultural imperialism from the West. The Japanese point to Australians eating our national emblem and the uncontrolled hunting of the vulnerable dugong in Queensland waters. They also raise the recreational and the commercial killing of about 150,000 mutton birds in Tasmania: this is a bird which thousands of people gather to watch in Japan on its migratory path.

Captain Paul Watson: The word "sustainable" is tossed around freely these days to justify every resource exploitation activity that takes place. There is no such thing as sustainable whaling or sustainable fishing. Not any longer. There simply are not enough whales and not enough fish to continue to satisfy the greed of these resource extraction industries. If the Japanese wish to come to Australia and oppose the killing of kangaroos and dugongs then there are many Australians that would welcome that. I would dearly love the Japanese to come to Canada and oppose the massive slaughter of seals. This has nothing to do with nationalism and everything to do with protecting other species and eco-systems. The truth of it is that these arguments from Japan expressing concern over mutton birds and whales are bogus and hypocritical and are simply being tossed out defensively to justify their illegal whaling activities.

And Japan subtly hints there is racism in Australia's anti-whaling campaign; they question why there are few voices here attacking Norwegian, Russian or Icelandic whaling for human food. And many forget that the US pushed through a quota of 50 Arctic bowhead whales a year for five years for Alaskan whalers.

Captain Paul Watson: I am beginning to think that Mr. Bergin is a paid public relations flack for the Japanese whaling industry. He is trotting out every canard available in the P.R. bag of tricks to justify his arguments. Here he is playing the race card. The fact is that the anti-whaling movement does indeed oppose Norway and Iceland and also closely monitors aboriginal whaling in Russia and the USA. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is the leading organization opposing plans by the Makah Indian of the United States to kill whales and we have hit both Iceland and Norway harder than we have hit Japan on this issue. Iceland has had two of its whalers sunk and Norway has had four of its whalers sunk while Japan has merely received a few stink bombs. Sea Shepherd also landed in Siberia to oppose illegal whaling activities there. The Arctic Bowhead quota is unfortunately legal and this is not true of Japanese whaling activities in the Antarctic Sanctuary. Protecting whales has nothing to do with race. It is a question of upholding international conservation law.

Australia's extreme anti-whaling stance means we have now probably cut ourselves out of playing much of a role in finding any longer-term diplomatic solution to this problem. While whaling is a global issue, we have managed to turn this into an Australia-versus-Japan dispute and in so doing backed ourselves into a diplomatic corner.

Captain Paul Watson: We have seen nothing "extreme" in the actions of the Australian government to date. This is a ridiculous statement and the kind of statement that one would expect from a paid apologist for the Japanese whaling industry. It is a global issue and it is not an Australian versus Japan dispute. The European Parliament has just this week condemned Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whaling operations.

We should now avoid any action on the whaling issue that would provoke Japan into challenging Australia's claim to sovereignty over our Antarctic territory. Such a move would undermine the Antarctic treaty that is central to protecting our overall Antarctic interests.

Captain Paul Watson: What Mr. Bergin is saying here is that in order to claim sovereignty over the Australian Antarctic Territory that Australia must not defend this territory. Australia either has sovereignty or it does not. When a nation relinquishes sovereignty and refuses to defend its territory from invasion than this is a surrender of it's sovereignty to the invader. Mr. Bergin is calling on Australia to surrender this territory to Japan which for all intensive purposes it already has done by refusing to kick illegal Japanese whalers out of this territory.

In his talks in Tokyo, Mr. Rudd should lower his voice on the issue and let others mediate to find a compromise over the future of Japanese whaling.

Captain Paul Watson: Australians did not elect Mr. Rudd so that he could lower his voice. They elected him to raise his voice. Why should Australia let others mediate on an issue that is of deep concern to Australians? There can be no compromise with criminals and Japanese whaling is a criminal operation that demands that international law be enforced.

Anthony Bergin is the director of research programs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Captain Paul Watson: There is nothing strategic about appeasement, capitulation and surrender to foreign interests at the expense of the wishes of Australian citizens. It appears that Mr. Bergin should be the director of research programs for the Japanese Strategic Policy Institute instead.