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Scene from "Whale Wars."

This week, Shaun Monson — who wrote and directed the hard-hitting documentary Earthlings — posted an insightful blog on the Huffington Post called “Legitimate Animal Activism.” Shaun’s post is in response to a June post by Richard Spilman, in which Spilman accuses the group Sea Shepherd of eco-terrorism.

It has become common these days to call animal activists terrorists, and frankly, I think it’s a cop-out — a convenient brush used by too many pundits to vilify and discredit the work of activists. It’s as if these writers don’t want to spend the time actually considering why animal activists must do what they do; they’d rather use a word that is quickly becoming the 21st-century equivalent of a racial slur. Referring to the popular show on Animal Planet that features Sea Shepherd activists confronting Japanese whalers, Spilman writes, “In the end, ‘Whale Wars’ is a highly dangerous sideshow, which may make for diverting ‘reality TV’ for the couch-bound, but has nothing meaningful to do with ‘saving the whales.’”

Shaun calls Spilman’s post bold and reckless. “After all, it is a curious terrorist organization that hasn’t actually killed anybody,” he writes. Shaun goes on to observe: “The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is credited with saying there are Three Stages of Truth: first, ridicule; second, violent opposition; and third, acceptance. This was certainly true for the abolitionists, who were told that to abolish slavery would threaten the entire economy of the United States. Indeed they were ridiculed and violently opposed long before there was any acceptance. We look back now at human slavery as one of the darkest periods in American history. Women seeking the right to vote, known as the suffragettes, experienced a similar fate. They too were ridiculed, and violently opposed, until finally, after long grief and pain, they were accepted.”

These social justice movements have become inspirations to animal activists, who, as Shaun points out, are often ridiculed and violently opposed. He ends his post by reminding us that it wasn’t the government that set out to end to slavery or give women the right to vote; rather, it took agitators — like today’s animal activists — who recognize an injustice and then battle the odds to win acceptance.

By the way, Shaun is currently working on volume 2 of the Earthlings trilogy, Unity.

steveirwin_hobartOn Friday, February 20, as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, Australian Federal Police served a search warrant and seized records and videos shot for the Animal Planet series Whale Wars. According to a statement on the Sea Shepherd site, the warrant authorized the seizing of “all edited and raw video footage, all edited and raw audio recordings, all still photographs, producer’s notes, interview transcripts, production meeting minutes, post production meeting minutes as well as the ship’s log books, global positioning system records, automatic radar plotting aid, purchase records, receipts, financial transaction records, voyage information and navigational plotted charts.”

 

The statement adds: “The Animal Planet series Whale Wars was very embarrassing to the Japanese government and the Japanese whaling industry in 2008. Japan does not wish to see the airing of the second season of Whale Wars and is putting as much diplomatic pressure on Australia as they possibly can to prevent further exposure of their illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.”

 

An Australian federal agent said the raid resulted from a formal referral from Japanese authorities and that police were undertaking preliminary inquiries into this summer’s Southern Ocean confrontation. Sea Shepherd says two crew members were injured when Japanese whalers used water cannon, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons and threw brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd boats. Japanese whalers claim the Steve Irwin rammed them.

 

The seized videos, which reportedly depict the clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd activists, may be turned over to the Japanese government. According to Don Rothwell, an Australian National University law professor quoted in the media, legal obligations mean evidence of alleged maritime offenses could be forwarded to Japan.

 

The Japanese government-owned fleet’s president, Kazuo Yamamura, is calling on Australian authorities to impose international agreements. “These maritime laws are not options,” Yamamura said. “If they are not applied, they are of little value.” This is highly ironic coming from a group that openly flouts the international ban on whale hunting in the Southern Ocean. Japan circumvents the ban by using an International Whaling Commission loophole that permits research of the whales.

 

Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd said the Steve Irwin had never been searched before, but he welcomes any charges that led to the crew facing a court. “My position is that if they want to put me on trial for anything connected with this, then I am happy to do it,” he said. “We are not there protesting; we are down there to stop a blatantly criminal activity, to stop whaling in a whale sanctuary. These actions have to go to court somewhere, so let’s start it here.”

A coalition of Sea Shepherd and Jakarta Animal Aid is ratcheting the pressure on Japanese whalers.

    Fleeing the Sea Shepherd ship the Steve Irwin on December 20, the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru 2 suffered heavy damage from ice floes in the Southern Ocean and was forced to limp north to Surabaya, Indonesia, for repairs (amid much cheering from the Sea Shepherd activists, I’m guessing).

    “They only had two choices,” says Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd. “They could have gone south with the Steve Irwin into the lighter ice or they could have gone north to avoid the Steve Irwin into the thicker ice floes. They chose the more dangerous route and it looks like they suffered damage for that decision.”

    The whalers had to retreat to Indonesia because their illegal whaling activities have gotten them barred from the much-closer Australian and New Zealand ports. But the Japanese crews’ woes haven’t ended. The Jakarta Animal Aid organization has been demonstrating in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, protesting the presence of the Yushin Maru 2. Jakarta Animal Aid activists are also organizing another protest at the Japanese embassy.

    The Yushin Maru 2 is expected to leave Suryabaya on January 16, the day the Steve Irwin will likely arrive in Hobart, Tasmania, for refueling. Once refueled, the Steve Irwin will be able to return to the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean before the Yushin Maru 2. Other vessels in the fleet include the Kaiko Maru, the Nisshin Maru and the Yushin Maru 3.

    The crews of the whaling vessels have gone to considerable trouble and expense to outfit their ships with anti-boarding measures, including spikes and nets around the ships. “It really is quite amazing,” says Captain Watson. “The effort and expense that has gone into preventing us from boarding is ambitious. The ships can literally cover themselves with a net that can be deployed like a shower curtain around the vessel. Large fenders and sharp spikes protrude from the sides of the ship. It looks very formidable and very expensive.”

    The Japanese also recently tried to have Australian authorities ban Sea Shepherd from the country’s ports for refueling the Steve Irwin. Australia rebuffed the request, and now Sea Shepherd is working to get the Japanese fleet banned from ports in Indonesia because of their illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

    “We have demonstrated that the whalers can be physically stopped,” says Captain Watson. “If we had just one more ship down here, we could stop them by 90 percent, and we could bankrupt them totally. Shutting down illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is a very doable task. We are doing the best we can with the resources available to us. With more support we could win this war to save the whales.”

    Sea Shepherd is offering a $10,000 reward to anyone able to non-violently prevent the Yushin Maru 2 from departing the harbor for the duration of this year’s whaling season.

    You can bet all this high-seas drama will make for a winning season of Whale Wars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saying they are prepared for their most violent confrontation yet with the Japanese whaling fleet, campaigners from the animal-rights group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have set off from Brisbane, Australia, heading toward the Southern Ocean. “We believe the Japanese will be more aggressive and more violent than last year because they are getting desperate, but we feel we have to take these risks to keep the pressure on,” said Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.

 

The organization’s four-month campaign will be carried out in the Antarctic waters. Japan uses a loophole in a 1986 global agreement that allows lethal research on whales (which is why you see Japan’s whaling ships labeled “Research”).

 

paulwatson_darrylhannahJoining the anti-whaling crew this year is US actress Daryl Hannah, who said the killing of whales would come to an end if governments enforced the anti-whaling laws and Greenpeace worked in unison with the Sea Shepherd. “They are hunting endangered species in a marine protected area,” she said. “It is surprising and shocking to me that governments are not doing this work ― that it is up to individuals and non-government organizations to uphold international law and protect endangered species. If Greenpeace would join forces with Sea Shepherd they would shutdown the whaling industry right away. If they were really serious and held their convictions they could accomplish this.”

 

Captain Watson said there was a need for a second fast ship, which he said would help more than halve the quote of kills and sink the whalers economically. “How much longer can [the Japanese whalers] keep losing profits?” he asked. “Last year they made a $70 million loss. For three years they have been making losses.”

 

Last year’s hunting season saw the Japanese return home with 551 minke whales — almost 300 less than their planned quota, thanks to activists.

 

This year, Sea Shepherd’s campaign has been named “Operation Musashi” in reference to the legendary Japanese strategist Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), known as a great samurai warrior, strategist and tactician and a role model and hero to Captain Watson.

 

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings includes the approach of the Twofold Way of Pen and Sword. Sea Shepherd has thus adopted a campaign logo of the crossed feather pen and katana (sword) under the skull with the imbedded sperm whale and dolphin yin-yang symbol with a Banzai flag background, which gives reference to the ecological imperialism that the Japanese whalers are committing against the whales of the Southern Ocean.

 

The Japanese fleet, run by the so-called Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, set sail from the port of Innoshima, near Hiroshima, last week. The whalers plan to catch up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales but no humpbacks, Japanese fisheries officials said.

 

Rest assured that all the drama of this year’s high-seas animal activism will be played out on the new television series Whale Wars.

Captain Paul Watson and his fellow Sea Shepherd activists are preparing to depart Australia at the end of this month to obstruct Japanese whaling activities in the Antarctic Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary. Last summer, Japan sent coast guard officers down on its whaling ships. This year, Greenpeace believes the Japanese will be sending a coast guard ship to protect its whaling fleet.

 

“It was reported in a Japan fisheries magazine some weeks ago that the equivalent of $8 million has been allocated to the Japanese coast guard to protect the fleet,” said Steve Shallhorn, chief executive of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific. “So, we made the assumption that that amount of money will be used to send a vessel down there.”

 

That realization has apparently scared Greenpeace into cancelling previously announced plans to send a ship to oppose Japanese whaling efforts. This means that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will be alone in its high-seas opposition to illegal Japanese whaling operations when the whaling season opens in a month.

 

“They can send the entire Japanese Navy down to the Southern Ocean if they like, but Sea paulwatson1Shepherd and the crew of the Steve Irwin will not be intimidated by this kind of brutal military thuggery,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “When we say we put our lives on the line to defend the whales, we mean it. It’s not just a slogan for us. I have not seen a whale die since I left Greenpeace in 1977 and I have no intention of seeing a whale die this year. They don’t kill whales when we show up and they won’t kill whales when we arrive again this year. They will have to sink us first.”

 

Of Greenpeace’s announcement that it has changed its mind about participating, Captain Watson was equally blunt. “As a Greenpeace co-founder, I am deeply offended that Greenpeace has been raising millions of dollars in the name of defending whales all year and now two weeks before the Japanese whaling fleet is scheduled to depart, they announce they will not be going,” he said. “In my opinion they collected funds under false pretenses and now they have abandoned the whales. Shame on them.”

 

Captain Watson added that he intends to sink the Japanese fleet economically. “Our strategy is to … force the Japanese whalers to spend money on fuel without killing whales. We have been the cause of the Japanese whaling fleet losing profits for three years in a row. We intend to make it a fourth year.”

seashepherdSea Shepherd activists have rammed Japanese whaling ships, thrown butyric acid onto their decks and even climbed on board. Then last summer, someone aboard a Japanese whaling ship fired a shot at Captain Watson, hitting his bulletproof vest. The incident is highlighted on the new Animal Planet series Whale Wars.


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