Japan suspends Antarctic whaling

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2011:

TOKYO–“It’s official. The Japanese whaling fleet has called
it quits in the Southern Ocean, at least for this season,” the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society cautiously acknowledged on February 17,
2011, a week after the whalers suspended operations in Antarctic
waters on February 10, and two days after global media declared the
Sea Shepherds the winners after seven winters of stalking the whalers
through the ice fields.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson feared a trick on February
16, after the suspension of whaling made headlines worldwide, when
the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru changed course and appeared to
be heading back into the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
“The turnabout could mean one of two things,” blogged Watson
from the bridge of the Steve Irwin, the flagship of a Sea Shepherd
fleet also including the Bob Barker and the high-speed Gojira.
“First,” Watson said, “they may be on a great circle route back to
Japan. Second, they may be returning to the Ross Sea, where the
three Japanese harpoon vessels may be waiting to continue their
The turnabout came less than 24 hours after Japan Fisheries
Agency spokesperson Tatsuya Nakaoku told Reuters that, “Putting
safety as a priority, the fleet has halted scientific whaling for
now. We are currently considering what to do.”
Watson was immediately wary. “If that’s true, it
demonstrates that our tactics and strategies have been successful,”
Watson told Agence France-Presse by satellite. “I don’t think
they’ve gotten more than 30 whales,” Watson guessed. The four-ship
Japanese whaling fleet, down from seven ships in 2010, had a
self-assigned quota of up to 945 whales. Japanese sources later
reported that the whalers had killed about 20% of the quota–about
190 whales.
Though jubilant at the whalers’ retreat this winter, Watson
remained aware that Japanese “research whaling” may not yet be
finished. “I think it is premature to see this as a victory,”
Watson posted to Sea Shepherd supporters. “There has been no mention
of how long this suspension will be. It could be permanent, or for
this season only, or it could be for a matter of weeks or even
days,” he reminded celebrants. “What we know is that the whalers
will not be killing any whales for the next few weeks– not because
of any suspension, but because it is physically impossible for them
to do so.”
The suspension of whaling came about 24 hours after Bob
Barker captain Alex Cornelissen positioned his vessel between the
Nisshin Maru and the three Japanese whale-catchers, after a 26-day
pursuit and then two weeks of high-seas skirmishing. The Sea
Shepherd fleet first caught the whalers on December 31, 2010,
before any whales were killed, but the whalers escaped through a
broken ice field that kept the Gojira speeding after them, relaying
their position to the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker.
“The ocean skirmishes are just one part of a much bigger
picture,” observed Richard Black of the BBC blog Earth Watch..
“Sales of whalemeat have fallen, despite promotion. The national
budgetary situation is dire. The Kyodo Senpaku company, which
actually does the whaling on behalf of the Institute of Cetacean
Research, is itself said to be in major financial difficulties.
Sources from within the whaling industry told Greenpeace in December
that a smaller quota would be targeted this year, purely for
financial reasons.”
Also, Black mentioned, Australia has filed a case against
Japanese whaling with the International Court of Justice, due to be
heard in 2011–an embarrassment, win or lose, that some voices
within the Japanese government would like to avoid.
“Another looming constraint,” Black wrote, “is that from
next season, ships carrying heavy fuel oil will be banned from
Antarctic waters under the International Maritime Organization’s new
anti-pollution code. Switching the Nisshin Maru to diesel would be
technically feasible–but would anyone foot the bill? An alternative
would be to invest in a new factory ship that would both meet the new
pollution standard and be fast enough to escape Sea Shepherd’s
attention. But again–who’s going to pay?
“It does at least appear possible,” Black concluded, “that
the current Antarctic whale hunting season will be the last.”

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