Sea Shepherd: One To Defend Them All
by Peter, Notts Indymedia
I had heard of the Sea Shepherd before. I knew they were renowned and feared at sea for ramming illegal fishing vessels and others exploiting the oceans. That the crew are passionate people and committed to what they do. That they have claimed the sinking of over 10 ships, many of them used to hunt whales, and that they have rammed numerous vessels at sea. They can also claim that no one has been injured in any of their campaigns in the last 30 years and that they have single handedly shut down illegal fishing operations around the world.
So when my friend Dan, from Nottingham, went off to join them as part of the international crew on their vessel Steve Irwin, to oppose the Japanese whale hunt, I was excited and wanted to know more. The aim of the mission was clear: harass and chase the Japanese whaling fleet around the coast of Antartica to make sure they can't catch any whales. Or at least, not as many as they planned to.
The Japanese claim that the 1000 or so whales that make up their yearly quota are hunted down and killed for 'scientific research' since the moratorium on commercial whaling, imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, prohibits commerical whale hunts. It is strange that the very same meat that is hunted in these 'scientific expeditions' ends up on dinner plates in schools and restaurants back in Japan. Strange also that Japan has never publicized any results of their so called 'scientific research' in over 20 years.
Before I started hearing about the actions in Antartica and started reading up on the issue, I had some naive belief that whale hunting had stopped. That whales were protected and cherished as the world's largest mammal. That all this whale hunting business was a thing of the past. I was very wrong.
Three quarters of the world is covered in water. Did you know that over 90% of marine wildlife that filled our oceans in 1950's is now destroyed? Gone. Hundreds of marine species, including sharks, dolphins and whales are on the brink of extinction. That is a bitter pill to swallow. Could we live in a world with a dead ocean? For most of us land dwellers the sea is a pretty abstract thing but a dead ocean will have a knock on effect for all life on earth.
It's nearly midnight and I've got hold of the number for the Steve Irwin. A 14 digit number, scribbled on a bit of paper in my pocket. I've heard they are in a storm at the end of the world, pretty much as far South as man can get, but they've got satelite phones on board so I've arranged to do an interview with Dan.
"Hello?", the phone crackles. "Eh up, how is it going?", says a small voice down the other end. "Yeah, I'm fine, how are you?" "Yeah, I'm alright. We're in the middle of the Southern Ocean right now. In a big storm at the moment with things flying around everywhere.." We do the small talk and then I ask Dan about the mission. He tells me about the role the Sea Shepherd plays at sea. "In this situation the Sea Shepherd is actually playing the role of the Australian navy or coastguard. We're in Australian waters and Australian territory. The Australian Federal Court ruled recently that the Japanese whaling operations inside their territory is illegal and that it should be restrained. But there just isn't the political will to do that. Japan and Australia are important trading partners. There are numerous laws which are protecting the whales down here, I'm not an expert on all of them, but there is the Convention International Trade In Endangered Species, the UN World Charter for Nature, the International Whalings Commission Moratorium on Commercial Whaling, and the Antarctic Treaty to protect whales. So they are really blatently breaking a whole bunch of laws. So it is a case of law enforcement, more so than protesting".
So the international community has agreed to protect whales, drawing up lists of laws and treaties? "Only worth as much as the piece of paper it's written on.. These treaties should either not be agreed on, or be enforced" comments Dan. So the issue is enforcement. Lacking an international navy, who's going to enforce international law in (in many case) international waters? "Now that's where we come in". It's a sad fact that the Sea Shepherd with its 2, 3 ships are the only enforcers to cross the great seas and oceans of the world in search of poachers.
Dan rejoined the crew in the middle of the anti-whaling mission and I followed the news closely. Named Operation Migaloo, after the only known albino humpback in the world, it was Sea Shepherd's 4th expedition to the remote southern waters off the coast of Antarctica and was typically eventful. In January, two Sea Shepherd volunteers were taken hostage by Japanese whalers when they tried to deliver a letter to one of the whaling vessels. Then in March, several of the crew were injured when the Japanese military threw flash grenades onto the ship and opened fire on them. The Steve Irwin covered a total of 20,090 nautical miles (37,205 kilometers) during the mission and made 3 return trips from Melbourne, Australia to refuel. In total, they were at sea confronting the Japanese for nearly 3 months.
The connection starts to get really bad. I can hardly make out what Dan is saying. I raise my voice: "You're obviously doing a great job down there, is there anything people can do on land to support the stuff you're doing down there?" After the usual 2 seconds delay: "When you go to the Sea Shepherd website there are numerous people you can contact to confront them about their inaction. There is Sea Shepherd UK who are constantly raising funds. This ship consumes huge amounts of diesel and then there is the maintenance and repair. People can be sure that any money they donate will be used directly to confront the whalers".
When the whaling fleet returned to Japan in April they acknowledged they only managed to catch about half their quota of whales. Japan blamed the failure to 'relentless interference' from environmentalists and described the situation as 'regrettable'. "The number of whales taken was low of course because of the sabotage" said Shigeki Takaya, a spokesman for the Japanese Fisheries Agency. "We're angry that they can carry out such dangerous activities, and it doesn't bother them". Peter Hammarstedt, the second officer on the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin was amused at that comment. "Of course it did not bother us that the number of whales killed was low and we are proud that we stopped them from slaughtering the rest, and we intend to return again next season to save more whales. Our crew did a wonderful job this year and we are pleased that we have cost the Japanese whalers so much money and trouble. We hope to hurt them even harder next year" he said.
Read more on UK Indymedia: http://indymedia.org.uk/oceans
or Sea Shepherd website: http://seashepherd.org.uk