Whalers' plans to take 985 whales foiled

Feature story - 19 March, 2008
Japanese whalers have announced that they are struggling to harpoon their quota this year. As the season draws to a close, they have caught less than half the 985 whales they targeted.

Greenpeace dogged the whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, shutting down the whalers for longer than ever before.

By keeping the whaling fleet's factory ship on the run in January our non-violent protests were vital in frustrating the Japanese Fisheries Agency's plans, as the whalers tried to avoid public scrutiny by not killing whales in our presence.

Without the support of millions of people like you we could not have sent our ship, the Esperanza, to the Southern Ocean, or generated enough controversy to cause Japan to call off their humpback hunt before it had even started.

There are only a couple of weeks left in the hunting season, and by their own admission the owners of the whaling ships will not be off-loading anything like the planned 1,000 whales worth of boxed and frozen whale meat.

However, whale meat from the start of the hunt is due to arrive back in Japan in the next few days - destined to sit in warehouse stockpiles as potential whale meat buyers in Japan are themselves becoming a vanishing species.

Back in January, as well as shutting down the whale operations for longer than ever before,  we peacefully disrupted the refueling of the Japanese whaling fleet by the tanker Oriental Bluebird. Following the refueling, huge amounts of whale meat were transferred to the Oriental Bluebird for transit back to Japan.

The Oriental Bluebird doesn't have a permit as part of Japan's research whaling fleet, and is flagged as a Panamanian vessel. Both Panama and Japan have signed the international Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits commercial trade in species named on its Appendix 1 list.

The minke whale is an Appendix 1 species, and while Japan has filed for an exception to the regulations, Panama has not. The meat now steaming towards Japan all boxed up and ready for sale has, according to law, been exported to Panamanian territory -- and the Greenpeace ship Esperanza has photos to document that. Any offloading of the whale meat in Japan could constitute a violation of the CITES convention.

Even if the whale meat is offloaded, we'll be ashore to voice the opposition of whale defenders around the world. Greenpeace Japan has been urging supermarkets and restaurants not to offer whale meat. Three of the top five supermarkets chains have responding positively. 'Watami', a famous pub chain, with over 600 restaurants all over Japan, has also confirmed that whale is off the menu.

Fewer and fewer people in Japan are eating whale meat, leading to declining demand and an unsold stockpile of nearly 4,000 tonnes of whale meat. In a desperate attempt by the bureaucrats of the Japanese Fisheries Agency to reverse the trend and create artificial support for their unpopular product, the whale meat has been subsidised, pushed into school lunches and even used as dog food. A company charged with marketing the meat has for two years running failed to turn a profit, and the whalers this year had to reorganise payment of an interest-free government loan, as they've been unable to meet their sales targets.

Commercial whaling has no future -- whether it's disguised as scientific research or not.  In Norway, the number one buyer of whale meat announced that they're getting out of the whale meat business. In Iceland, the Minister of Fisheries announced last year that no quota was being set because there was no market for the whale meat.

With steady pressure, we can ensure that whaling is consigned to the history books forever, and that in future whales are shot by the cameras of whale watchers, rather than the harpoons of so-called researchers.


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