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Whale hunt, Sea Shepherd saga and debate continue

December 29, 2008 |  9:53 am

Image from Animal Planet's 'Whale Wars' series profiling the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

When a country (Japan) chooses to kill whales despite international opposition, and a controversial group (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) decides to intervene, people from around the world take notice.

An item posted on Outposts last week generated 46 comments, mostly from people opposing Japan's annual slaughter performed under the guise of research, and many from people who either admire or despise Sea Shepherd's founder, Capt. Paul Watson, whose credibility has been questioned and whose methods of disrupting hunts can seem dangerous and foolhardy.

The latest report from Watson and his crew is that they've chased Japan's whaling fleet out of Australian waters and deeper into the Antarctic region, and have so far kept the whalers from enjoying an uninterrupted period to find and kill whales.

My take is simply that whales deserve a break, and it's refreshing to see there are groups trying to ensure they get one.

The international moratorium placed on whaling in 1986 (with a stupid loophole, allowing kills for research) was imposed to enable whales to rebound from what, for many species, was the brink of extinction.

Not every commenter opposed the hunts. One claimed Japan's killing of whales for meat (after scientific study, of course) was no different than us killing cows for hamburgers.

One major difference is that cows are dumb animals raised specifically for human consumption, while whales are wild creatures capable of communicating with song, and of great migrations to propagate.

Another difference is that whale meat, unlike beef, is not in demand. Japan is trying merely to maintain a long-standing whaling tradition. A Greenpeace spokesman emailed me a link to a BBC story published three years ago.

It implied that Japan was literally trying to force whale meat on schoolchildren, frying it in breadcrumbs or mincing it into burgers. Essentially, Japan's younger residents do not like whale meat.

Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson in a 1993 Los Angeles Times photo.

It was last popular after World War II, as a cheap source of protein. Beef and fresh fish, not whale meat, are preferred among most Japanese.

Understandably, Japan does not like being told what it can and cannot do. A fisheries official was quoted in the BBC story as stating, "Why do people in the West make such a big deal about our very limited hunting of whales? How would they feel if we told Americans they couldn't hunt deer, or if we told Australians to stop hunting kangaroos?"

I don't know about kangaroos, but deer hunting is a wildlife management tool designed to prevent herds from growing beyond their carrying capacities, whereupon they'd become susceptible to disease and population collapse. And deer hunting has not been condemned globally.

So while a nation clings to culture and tradition, Sea Shepherd maintains the fight as the lone group involved in direct confrontation, now that Greenpeace has decided against sending a boat to the region.

This much is clear: With no boats on site, there would be no disruption and more whales would die.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Image from Animal Planet's "Whale Wars" series profiling the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (top), and Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson in a 1993 Los Angeles Times photo.