Japan uses tsunami relief funds to defend whalers against Sea Shepherds
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2012:
FREMANTLE–Even whalers quoted by The New York Times believed
that the March 11, 2011 tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan
had probably killed the whaling industry–but that was before prime
minister Yoshihiko Noda took office in September 2011.
Noda, from Chiba prefecture, a longtime hub of coastal
whaling, diverted 2.28 billion yen–$30 million–from tsunami relief
and rebuilding funds to quadruple the $10 million annual government
subsidy for “whaling research,” to be conducted by killing from 900
to 1,000 whales in Antarctic waters designated off limits to whaling
by the International Whaling Commission.
Japan has used the pretext of doing scientific research to
continue whaling in defiance of the whaling moratorium declared by
the IWC in 1986.
Greenpeace Japan disclosed the allocation for “stabilizing
whaling research” on December 6, 2011, the day the factory ship
Yushin Maru and two whale-catching boats left port in Shimonoseki,
in western Japan, for the unilaterally declared winter whaling
“Not only is the whaling industry unable to survive without
large increases in government handouts, now it’s siphoning money
away from the victims of the March 11 disaster, at a time when they
need it most,” Greenpeace Japan executive director Junichi Sato told
Japan Fisheries Agency whaling chief Tatsuya Nakaoku
“defended the move, saying the funding helps support Japan’s whaling
industry as a whole, including some whaling towns along the
devastated northeastern coast. He said one ship on the hunt is
based in Ishinomaki, a town hit badly by the tsunami,” reported Mari
Yamaguchi of Associated Press.
The extra funding was reportedly to be used mostly to try to
keep the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society away from the whalers.
The whaling fleet returned to Japan after killing only 172 whales in
2011, blaming harassment from the Sea Shepherd vessels Steve Irwin,
Bob Barker, and Brigitte Bardot for the shortfall.
The Brigitte Bardot, launched as the Cable & Wireless
Adventurer, in 1998 set a record for powered craft by circling the
world in 74 days. It campaigned with the Sea Shepherds in 2010-2011
as the Gojira, Japanese for “God-zilla,” but was renamed after the
owners of the Gojira and Godzilla film monster trademarks had
objected to further Sea Shepherd use of the names. It replaced a
similar but smaller racing boat, the Ady Gil, which on January 6,
2010 was cut in two when rammed by the whale-catcher Shonan Maru #2.
Ady Gil captain Pete Bethune five weeks later boarded the Shonan Maru
#2 from a Jet Ski launched from the Bob Barker and handed the captain
a bill for the loss of the Ady Gil. Taken to Japan, Bethune was
convicted in Tokyo District Court of illegally interfering with the
whale hunt, given a two-year suspended sentence, and deported to
The 2011-2012 Sea Shepherd mission to the Antarctic was not
delayed by a petition for a restraining order filed in Seattle by the
Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research and whaling fleet operator
Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., but suffered a setback when Australia
denied Sea Shepherd helicopter pilot Chris Aultman an entry visa.
This was to have been the sixth winter that Aultman flew for the Sea
Shepherds. “The 38-year-old Gulf War veteran’s work has been vital
to finding the whaling fleet, and provided a critical platform for
aerial footage used in the Whale Wars documentary series. Aultman
won praise for conducting a 14-hour aerial search for missing
Norwegian adventurers in the Ross Sea last summer, in conditions
that forced the New Zealand Navy to withdraw,” recalled Andrew
Darby of the Sydney Morning Herald.
But Sea Shepherd drone aircraft found the whalers just before
Christmas. The Sea Shepherd fleet closed in.
On December 28, 2011, Brigitte Bardot ship manager Simon
Ager e-mailed to blogger Jennifer Mishler, “We were going through
anything between six and eight metre waves, and then we had a rogue
wave of 11 metres. It just came right over and kicked us really
hard. There was a massive crack in the pontoon and then and there I
knew it was game over, and we weren’t going to be staying down in
Antarctica, and it was one of those moments where it was all hands
The fastest remaining Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker,
continued to chase the whalers, while the Steve Irwin towed the
Brigitte Bardot to Fremantle for repairs that would keep it sidelined
at least until spring. The Steve Irwin refueled and resupplied in
Fremantle, then–shadowed by the Shonan Maru #2–returned to the
On January 7, 2012 Forest Rescue Australia activists Simon
Peterffy, Geoffrey Tuxworth, and Glen Pendlebury “came by boat from
shore to intercept the Shonan Maru #2, 16.2 miles off the coast and
22 miles northwest of Bunbury, Western Australia,” the Sea Shepherds
announced. The Forest Rescue trio “were met by two small boats from
the Steve Irwin. The boats approached the Shonan Maru #2 under the
cover of darkness. The three men negotiated their way past razor
wire and spikes and over the rails to successfully board,” the Sea
Shepherd release continued. “They have been detained, and could be
taken to Tokyo to face piracy and trespass charges.”
Forest Rescue Australia spokesperson Rowan Davidson said
Peterffy, Tuxworth, and Pendlebury followed the boarding with a
hunger strike. Davidson said they had hoped the Shonan Maru #2 would
return the men to Australia.
“We are doing all we can diplomatically to ensure that these
three Australian men are released. We’ve made very clear that the
Shonan Maru #2 is not welcome in our Exclusive Economic Zone,”
Australian attorney general Nicola Roxon told the Australian
Glenn Inwood, a New Zealand-based spokesman for Japan’s
Institute of Cetacean Research, told Australian radio that the three
men might be held on the Shonan Maru #2 for the duration of the
whaling season, possibly ending in March or April. But on January
10 the Japanese government agreed to release the trio to an
Australian customs vessel, without filing charges against them.
The shore-based Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians meanwhile
maintained surveillance of coastal whaling at Taiji, Japan, where
the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove was clandestinely
filmed in 2008.
Charged with pushing a Dolphin Resort Hotel employee in a
dispute to which there were no witnesses, while videotaping the
transfer of dolphins to holding pens, Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen
was on December 16, 2011 jailed at nearby Shingu and held “with no
communication or visitation permitted from Sea Shepherd personnel or
family members,” said a Sea Shepherd media release.
Two days later, the Sea Shepherds said, “Eighteen officers
of the Wakayama Prefecture police raided the Charmant Hotel where Sea
Shepherd’s Cove Guardians have been staying. The police seized all
of the Sea Shepherd volunteers’ computers, phones, hard drives,
photos, cameras and other items that the police deemed ‘suspicious.’
The cell phones and cameras, emptied of all storage drive cards,
were subsequently returned” to Sea Shepherd volunteers Scott West,
Melissa Sehgal, and Ron Ball.
Earlier, the Sea Shepherds said, “Two female Cove Guardians
were assaulted by a fisherman on November 5; despite video evidence
of the unprovoked assault, the fisherman was just questioned briefly
and then released. On arrival in Osaka airport, enroute to Taiji,
a male Cove Guardian from the U.S. was stripped, searched, and all
of his computer equipment, camera, and Sea Shepherd clothing and
paraphernalia were taken from him. No reason was given.”