Showdown at the IWC - Sea Shepherd Prepares to Battle Japan

The International Whaling Commission has been meeting all this month in Ulsan, South Korea. The official delegate meeting begins next week, and it promises to be a showdown between the whale-killing nations led by Japan and the whale-defending nations.

The whale killers are Japan, Norway, Iceland, and a bunch of small, puppet nations in the Caribbean and the South Pacific whose votes have been purchased by Japan. Japan has even enlisted landlocked Mongolia to join the IWC to vote for killing whales.

The strongest voices in defense of the whale are Australia and New Zealand. But other nations are also speaking up in defiance of the incredible arrogance of Japan.

This year, Japan has given the finger to international public opinion confident that they have finally bought enough votes to overturn the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Last month, Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of Japan's House of Councillors, warned that it would break the 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling if international regulators failed to establish a whaling management system by the end of June.

In addition , Hayashi said Japan will double its annual quota of research whaling
from the current more than 700, increasing both the number of species hunted and the hunting area. And for the first time in two decades, Japan will target the endangered humpback and fin species.

This announcement has been met with strong opposition from China, Germany, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

"Once a country starts commercial whaling with advanced hunting techniques, some species will probably become extinct in a short period of time," said Professor Zhu Qian, a whale expert with Shandong University in China. ""This endangered mammal is highly migratory. It belongs to the world, not any single country."

Meng Xianlin, a senior official with the Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office under the Chinese Ministry of Forestry, said, "China is a non-whaling country. We don't want to see countries violating the whaling commission's moratorium under the guise of 'scientific research'."

"I personally think the Chinese government will consider the academic voices this time and vote against the new proposal," said Meng Zhibin, a researcher from the Endangered Species Scientific Commission. "'Research whaling' is simply an excuse," he said. "How come such a large number of whales are needed for research?"

If they vote against the proposal, this will mark a shift for China, a country that has voted with Japan in past meetings.

British Fisheries minister, Ben Bradshaw, told the British media that Britain was totally opposed to Japan's whaling policy. "If Japan goes ahead with this, it will be sticking two fingers up at world opinion on the eve of the annual international whaling conference. "There is no excuse for scientific whaling, you can carry out the scientific research you need to on whales that are alive and the UK government position is that the only whaling that should be tolerated is limited whaling carried out by small indigenous populations," he said. "We just see it as a cover for economic whaling. It is very worrying."

The Japanese have been aggressively recruiting new members to the whaling commission using financial incentives which means the pro-whale nations may have lost the overall majority on the commission.

Speaking for the South African government Horst Kleinschmidt said, "The South African position is completely opposed to Japan's position and we will make that very clear."

Although the United States is officially opposed to whaling, there is a degree of mistrust with the USA from many IWC members. One source said that the United States did not want to cause any trade friction with Japan.

What all this means is that the future of the moratorium is uncertain. It could be overturned next week or it could be continued. The problem is, that if the moratorium is upheld, Japan intends to kill whales anywhere and anytime it wishes. And Japan will get away with it because IWC regulations have no enforcement agency to back up the rules and other nations are reluctant to impose economic sanctions on such a powerful nation.

So moratorium or no moratorium, the Japanese have already targeted 1400 minke whales, 80 humpbacks and 80 fin whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary in December 2005 and January 2006.

However, there is one unofficial enforcement agency for IWC regulations and that is Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Stopping the Japanese whaling fleet is the priority campaign for the Sea Shepherd for this year. We are preparing our flagship the Farley Mowat and we will be crossing the Pacific to Australia for final preparations to head down to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.

Sea Shepherd is not in Korea attending the IWC meetings because Sea Shepherd is the only non-governmental organization that is banned from attending the IWC meetings. The reason for this, is that Sea Shepherd is the only organization that has enforced the regulations of the IWC, and consequently, was banned for sinking two illegal Icelandic whaling ships in 1986.

To enable the Farley Mowat to reach the Japanese fleet, Sea Shepherd is seeking funding for fuel, supplies, preparations, equipment, and for acquiring a helicopter to enable us to locate the Japanese fleet.

Captain Paul Watson said, "If we get the financial support to acquire an aircraft and to fuel our ship we will find them and we will stop them from killing whales."