The IWC (Irrational Wacky Comedy) Meeting

The 59th International Whaling Commission Meeting
Anchorage, Alaska

Report from Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd

I have not attended a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1997. I only did so then as a special invited guest of His Highness Prince Albert of Monaco because the 50th meeting was hosted in that great little nation and that was exactly a decade ago.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has, in fact, been officially prohibited from attending the IWC meetings since 1987 after Iceland protested against Sea Shepherd's enforcement of the global moratorium on commercial whaling in November 1986 when we sank half the Icelandic whaling fleet at dockside in Reykjavik harbour, an action for which we have absolutely no apologies.

And it appears that our actions from two decades ago are still very much clearly remembered.

So, it was just mildly surprising that, after strolling into the lobby of the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, the management ordered me to leave the premises or face immediate arrest for criminal trespass. Their reasoning was my "history of disrupting IWC meetings."

I admit we have disrupted whaling operations on the high seas but this was a new twist. Since I had only attended one prior meeting in the last two decades and I had never disrupted a single meeting, I was of course surprised at this revelation.

But, they were not taking any chances, and the order was backed up by a 24-man police SWAT team complete with rooftop snipers. I was flattered to say the least.

The police were friendly, however, and my fellow comrade-in-expulsion Ric O'Barry and I held court on the sidewalk under the watchful eyes of the Anchorage police officers and snipers. We all drank designer coffee and exchanged pleasantries between media interviews. I promised to send all the officers Sea Shepherd pirate hats and we did.

Protests were somewhat low-key this year - certainly a far cry from the early eighties when Japanese whaling delegates were routinely showered in blood by protestors and giant whale balloons were paraded in the streets.

However, Australia demonstrated their concerns in the personage of three young women, a world class surfer, a whale artist, and a genuine professional mermaid.

The three young women - Skye Bortoli, Caitlyn Frerk, and Ayesha Future - founded the organization Teens Against Whaling. They raised their own funds to travel to Alaska to deliver 40,000 petition names with an appeal to the Japanese to spare Australia's humpback whales.

World class surfing champion Dave Rastovich arrived with his wife Hannah Fraser, a professional mermaid model from Australia, to include the IWC in a film they are making about the whales and dolphins. And Byron Bay, Australia, artist Howie Cooke erected his tepee and displayed his painted banners supporting the world's whales.

American artist and Sea Shepherd supporter Peggy Oki was also in Anchorage. She hung 30,000 origami whales to represent the 30,000 whales slaughtered since the moratorium on whaling was imposed in 1986. It was an impressive display.

Greenpeace had set up a tent with the strange name of Whale Broadcasting Corporation and a banner that said Stop Commercial Whaling. This was to show they had nothing against aboriginal or coastal whaling by Japanese whaling villages. When I visited their tent, I found the atmosphere was so decidedly chilly that I left quite quickly - hey, I know when I'm not welcome.

Meanwhile inside the hotel, Ric and I were not missing much in the way of substantial progress and witty dialogue. The sidewalk outside was more interesting as we conversed with the "insiders" as they came and went.

On the first day of the meeting, the pro-whaling and anti-whaling factions pretended to be the best of friends. This soon turned sour when it became apparent that Japan was attempting to use their intent to slaughter fifty endangered humpbacks as an extortionist ploy to open up commercial Japanese coastal whaling operations.

The Japanese said they were quite willing to take their quota of fifty Antarctic humpbacks off the table in return for permission to have Japanese coastal villages kill whales. They said that since Alaskan natives were allowed to kill whales, they should be also. The difference, of course, was between subsistence hunting by the Inuit and Yupik and commercial hunting by the Japanese - a very notable distinction that would open up commercial whaling activities in breach of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

The pro-whaling nations were having none of it and voted the Japanese request down.
But then they gave a quota of 20 humpbacks to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and applauded when the announcement of this quota was awarded.

Now, I can see the Japanese getting a little upset about this. There is nothing aboriginal about the slaughter of whales by the whale killing thugs of St. Vincent. The whalers are not natives, but rather the descendents of plantation slaves. They are also known to use exceptionally cruel methods to kill their innocent victims. They also sell the whale meat in public restaurants and stalls, so it is in fact also commercial.

It was great news, however, when Japanese "research" whaling was condemned once again by a vote of forty to two.

Brazil then proposed the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, but it was voted down by vote of 39 for and 29 against with two abstentions (because it required a 75% majority, it did not pass).

The only thing the delegates could agree on unanimously was condemning the efforts of Sea Shepherd to protect the whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.

Japan and New Zealand co-sponsored the resolution to condemn Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace actions in the Southern Oceans. It was a one-sided debate. The Japanese presented their "evidence" that Sea Shepherd had rammed their vessels but Sea Shepherd was not allowed to present our side of the affair despite the fact that an Australian Federal Police forensic team has investigated the incident and the results of the investigation backed the Sea Shepherd position that it was the Japanese vessel that rammed the Sea Shepherd vessel. Hell, if we had rammed them we would have proudly said so.

The Caribbean Japanese-controlled puppet nations rose one after another to energetically condemn Sea Shepherd and went so far as to blame Sea Shepherd interventions for the death of the Japanese whaler who died in the February fire that swept through the bowels of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru. Sea Shepherd was about a thousand miles away when that fire broke out.

Not much was said about the fact that an unsafe Japanese floating factory filled with chemicals and fuel oil had presented a clear and dangerous threat to the largest Adelie penguin colony in Antarctica. Nor did anyone point out that this was the second time the Nisshin Maru had suffered a major catastrophic fire in the last 10 years.

As the distortions and lies were voiced, not one voice rose in protest to defend the truth, and all the delegates both pro-whale and pro-whaling agreed on one thing and that was to enthusiastically condemn Sea Shepherd for its actions in attempting to uphold the IWC regulations by actually protecting the whales of the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.

The way the Caribbean whale-killing nations were presenting it, reading from the Japanese script, of course, is that any nation that did not vote to condemn Sea Shepherd would be endorsing the murder of a whaler by Sea Shepherd. Condolences were expressed to the family of the "victim." Crocodile tears were flowing and the delegates were becoming righteously indignant that Sea Shepherd extremism had killed a human being.

Finally, the United Kingdom spoke up to remind the delegates that the death of the whaler had not a thing to do with Sea Shepherd interventions and that the Sea Shepherd ships were hundreds of miles away when the fire broke out. Despite this, United Kingdom joined in consensus with all the member nations to condemn Sea Shepherd nonetheless.

I wish that some of that angry indignation could have been directed at Japan for their callous and cruel murder of the hundreds of intelligent, socially complex sentient beings that we call whales.

The melodrama did demonstrate that if nothing else Sea Shepherd was instrumental in getting all the member nations to agree on at least one thing. And that thing, is that it is okay to talk about saving whales but it is not okay to actually go out and physically do something about saving whales. In other words conversation, "yes," and conservation, "no."

But what does the condemnation mean? The IWC also condemned the Japanese intent to kill a thousand more whales in Antarctica but the Japanese intend to go ahead and do so anyway. And therefore, Sea Shepherd also intends to return to Antarctica to save whales again from illegal Japanese whaling operations.

Since Sea Shepherd was not allowed to be in the room when the New Zealand and Japanese resolution was passed to condemn Sea Shepherd and we were not allowed to present a defence and the IWC has not officially informed us of the condemnation then we can simply do what the Japanese whalers do and that is to ignore the IWC and go about doing what we do anyway. I think we'll call it the Sea Shepherd Whaler Harassment Research Project. The object is to discover what types of non-violent research tactics will best disrupt illegal whaling activities.

If Japan is condemned by the IWC for killing whales in Antarctic waters and they can do nothing to stop them from killing whales, then logically, the IWC should not be able to stop Sea Shepherd from intervening against the illegal killing of whales.

The IWC has already demonstrated that they are a toothless organization. Sea Shepherd has long suggested that the IWC must evolve from an organization that manages the whaling industry to an organization that protects and conserves whale populations. In fact, all of the efforts of the IWC should go towards regulating whale watching, whale sanctuaries, and dealing with threats to the survival of the whales like pollution, habitat destruction, harassment, and slaughter. The IWC should also be a body that protects small cetaceans like dolphins, pilot whales, and orcas.

Whaling has no place in the 21st Century. Sea Shepherd is opposed to all whaling by any people, anywhere, for any reason. However, we only intervene against whaling operations that are illegal under international conservation law and this includes violations of IWC regulations.

Yet, because we are the only organization that has ever actually enforced IWC regulations, this makes us the only organization to be banned from attending the IWC meetings.

It was amusing indeed to see the pirate whaling nations of the Caribbean endorse the Japanese condemnation of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace as pirates. Greenpeace indignantly protested the label but Sea Shepherd embraces the Jolly Roger because only pirates motivated by compassion will be able to intervene against the pirate whalers of profit. If the governments of the world refuse to do anything it means pirates vs. pirates upon the high seas, and our ships and our vegetarian volunteers are committed to the fight to save whales from slaughter and extinction from the remorseless and brutally evil piracy of the harpooners and perverse whale flesh eaters.

More lunacy followed when the IWC voted to give Denmark permission to kill 25 more piked (Minke) whales for a total of 200 off Greenland plus permission to murder 2 bowheads. Forty nations voted yes and only 11 voted no for 78%. This passed because the hunt is supposedly aboriginal but it was strange to see pro-whale nations voting to kill whales again. Denmark's original demand to kill 10 humpbacks was refused.

The meeting did take its human toll with Germany's Commissioner collapsing during a meeting and the Japanese Minister of Agriculture committing suicide on the first day of the meeting. The Minister killed himself before Japan was totally humiliated at the meeting, thus was spared the additional dishonour of having his team fail to achieve their murderous goals in Anchorage.

The moral victory of last year's meeting when Japan secured a single vote majority to overturn the commercial moratorium was overturned with the addition of new pro-whale members joining. Sea Shepherd brought Ecuador to the table to vote against Japan and her puppet Caribbean nations.

The meeting ended with a Japanese hissy fit when the Japanese delegation took back the invitation for the 2009 meeting to be held in Yokahama. In withdrawing the invitation, Japan was hinting that they may once again be considering dropping out of the IWC meetings. The 2009 meeting will be held on the Portuguese island of Madiera instead, to the relief of many delegates. Maybe Sea Shepherd will be able to attend again in 2009.

Next year, the meeting will be held in Santiago, Chile.

Will Japan quit the IWC? It is hard to say, they have been threatening to quit for the last 20 years. Maybe this time they really, really mean it. We shall see.

Sea Shepherd would welcome a Japanese withdrawal from the IWC. It would move the IWC towards becoming a global whale conservation organization and it would render the Japanese whaling fleet as clearly renegade and distinctly outlawed, which would make our efforts to intervene against their illegal activities more acceptable.

At the non-governmental organization reception, both dolphin defender Ric O'Barry and I were allowed to attend. The Greenpeacers ignored us and pretended we did not exist, and other NGO's approached us to request that we not take our ship to Iceland because it would make the Icelanders angry. We had to gently remind them that our clients are the whales and Icelanders killing them makes us angry.

All in all, I found that I had not missed much by not attending the IWC meetings over the last ten years. It was the same old, same old. Mucho talk and little action.

All I know is that the moratorium against Antarctic whaling stands and so-called "research whaling" by Japan in the Antarctic Whaling Sanctuary was condemned and, therefore, we have once again been given a clear mandate by the IWC to return to the remote waters of the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary to once again hunt down, intervene, harass, and oppose the continued illegal whaling activities by the Japanese whaling fleet.

Sea Shepherd will be tackling the Japanese whalers again beginning in December 2007 and the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat will be intervening against illegal Icelandic whaling this summer.

So with the drama, nonsense, bureaucratic lunacy, and blabber fest finished for another year, I boarded an Alaskan Airlines flight to Seattle. There I was seated across from Wayne Johnson, the man who killed a baby gray whale with a .50-calibre gun back in 1999.

In fact, the entire Makah whaling delegation was on the plane.

Wayne said to me that I should come to the reservation at Neah Bay and speak to him sometime soon. I told him that I would. I have nothing against the Makah nation, but I am honour bound to defend the whales against their killers. The Makah will not be killing a whale in the near future because the pro-whale faction has them tied up in the courts. So, perhaps it might be worthwhile to finally visit the Makah Nation as a representative of the whales and speak about their right to live unharmed upon this planet with us.

Perhaps Wayne Johnson, the whaler, and myself can communicate better than the gang of fumbling bureaucrats and compromisers that we saw in Anchorage last week. Certainly we can't do any worse.

One thing I do know is that Wayne and I share one thing in common that the IWC gang does not have, and that is that we both have a passion for whales. Whales are not just pieces of product from stocks to be harvested for us. To Wayne, the whale is an animal to be hunted for the cultural benefit of his tribe. I understand, but do not accept that. For me, the whale is to be saved for the good of whalekind. Wayne may understand this but does not accept it.

But at least we both understand whales in ways those posturing suits in Anchorage never have and never will.