Whale hunts by Japan: Is the tide finally turning against them?
While walking into a Whole Foods market recently, I was greeted by two Greenpeace recruiters, and we talked about Japanese whaling in the Antarctic and clashes between whalers and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
I asked why Greenpeace did not send a boat to the region this season and was told it's because Australia and New Zealand, which do not approve of disruptive tactics by the two groups, had announced it would not respond to any emergency arising from the clashes.
In an e-mail, John Hocevar, campaign manager for Greenpeace USA, did not confirm this. He replied: "We are focusing our pressure where it can have the most impact, on the decision makers in Tokyo."
Hocevar noted that two Japanese-based Greenpeace activists were jailed and facing prison sentences of up to 10 years for their roles "in blowing the whistle on illegal whale meat smuggling."
In May, Greenpeace posted its version of the story on its website:
"Greenpeace Japan used undercover investigators and the testimony of informers to expose that large amounts of prime cut whale meat were being smuggled from the whaling ship Nisshin Maru disguised as personal baggage, labeled "cardboard" or "salted stuff" and addressed to the private homes of crewmembers.
"Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki intercepted one box out of four sent to one address, discovered it contained whale meat valued at up to $3,000, and took it to the Tokyo public prosecutor."
The two were subsequently arrested and charged with stealing whale meat. Greenpeace considers them political prisoners.
Said a hopeful Hocevar: "There are several indications that the tide is turning. The scandal over the whale meat smuggling and the success of the campaign in Japan made it necessary for the whalers to hire non-Japanese crew for the first time this season.
"Kyodo Senpaku, the entity set up by the Fisheries Agency of Japan to run their whaling operation, announced that they will be closing their flagship whale meat restaurant for economic reasons.
"The Oriental Bluebird, which the whaling fleet has long used to refuel and offload whale meat in the Southern Ocean, was stripped of its Panamanian flag and fined. And fewer and fewer Japanese are eating whale meat, or in favor of whaling in the Southern Ocean. Commercial whaling is a dying industry, and we are doing all we can to speed along its demise."
Despite all this, Greenpeace was sharply criticized by the Sea Shepherd for not sending a ship to help harass the whalers. On Tuesday, the Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel, Steve Irwin, was engaged in a search for a whaler who fell overboard and was presumed lost at sea.
Photos: Greenpeace activists try to prevent a Japanese vessel from whaling in Antarctica's Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in 1999 (top photo). Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images. In second photo, a Greenpeace activist is arrested during a protest at St. Kitts, the site of a 2006 International Whaling Commission conference. Credit: Associated Press