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Japan embarks on annual whale hunt--can Sea Shepherd be far behind?

November 19, 2009 | 10:26 am

Seashepherd

Whaling ships from Japan left today for Antarctic waters on an annual five-month voyage in pursuit of about 1,000 minke whales and a small number of endangered fin whales.

The seasonal hunts, during the Antarctic summer, are highly controversial. They're carried out in the name of research but the meat is sold in Japanese markets and restaurants and whatever research is conducted has been deemed questionable and unnecessary by many scientists outside Japan.

Australia and New Zealand, closest to the whaling region, have spoken out against the hunts, but to no avail.

Enter the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its devoted captain, Paul Watson, who himself is controversial and labeled a terrorist by the Japanese. Sea Shepherd is making final preparations for "Operation Waltzing Matilda," its name for this year's harassment campaign against the whalers.

It will again involve a crew from Animal Planet for its popular "Whale Wars" series. The series has thrust Sea Shepherd into the spotlight and made a hero of Watson and his vegan crew, in the eyes of some. Watson has won many volunteer recruits because of the series.

But with another potentially violent and dangerous conflict soon to begin, Greenpeace International is claiming that an end to Japanese whaling is close on the  horizon because of the bad economy.

It reports that a government review committee has proposed substantial cuts in subsidies to various programs, including the whaling research program. Without government subsidies, Greenpeace maintains, "the whaling program would be doomed."

Time will tell. Meanwhile, exploding harpoons will tear into the flesh of unsuspecting cetaceans, water cannons will blast from ship to ship, bottles full of rancid butter will be heaved aboard the whaling vessels, and collisions might occur.

Watson will again be hailed and chastised; people seem to either cherish or despise him. He routinely brushes aside the criticism, saying that he's only interested in costing the whaling fleet money and saving as many whales as possible each year.

My guess is that he has come to enjoy the "Whale Wars" spotlight, also.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sea Shepherd crew members are hosed by crewmen aboard a Japanese harpoon vessel during last year's effort to harass the whalers. Credit: Stephen Roest / Sea Shepherd

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