Another battle is over in the war to save the whales

Saturday, 01 Apr, 2017

The Japanese outlaw whaling fleet released their kill numbers today. They had a quota to slaughter 333 minke whales and they are saying they have been able to secure that quota, proclaiming it a victory against Sea Shepherd as if defeating Sea Shepherd is their justification for the killing of whales. They can believe their own propaganda if they like but it was hardly a victory for the whalers.


Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

The Japanese whaling fleet hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Photo by Glenn Lockitch/ Sea Shepherd.

This campaign is not about numbers. It is about resistance to a blatantly illegal whaling operation. It is about continuing to defend the integrity of the internationally established Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It is about perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, determination in the face of almost impossible logistics and it is about doing absolutely everything that can possibly be done within the boundaries of limited resources and non-violence against an aggressively violent enemy with unlimited resources.

When I look at what was achieved with Operation Nemesis I am filled with great admiration and respect for the intrepid crews of the ships Ocean Warrior and Steve Irwin for mounting a three-month pursuit in horrendous weather conditions against an angry opposition armed with the most sophisticated technology and backed by one of the most formidable economic powers on the planet.

The Ocean Warrior crew just before their departure for the Southern Ocean. Photo by Simon Ager/Sea Shepherd.

These exceptional men and women under the command of Captain Adam Meyerson on the Ocean Warrior and Captain Wyanda Lublink on the Steve Irwin were able to locate and locate and dog the tail of the Japanese whaling fleet in a chase that covered thousands of nautical miles through almost continuous frigid storms and treacherous ice conditions.

No one else was down there pursuing these Japanese poachers. Australia’s promises to their own people were scuttled under political and economic pressure from Japan. The International Whaling Commission’s condemnation of unlawful Japanese whaling were worthless words from a toothless bureaucracy. Even the International Court of Justice verdict that the Japanese slaughter is not scientific and thus illegal was ignored.

The Steve Irwin crew just before their departure for the Southern Ocean. Photo by Chelsea Miller/Sea Shepherd.

It was frustrating for me to not be there. My hands are shackled by the U.S. Federal 9th Circuit Court that ordered me to not intervene against Japan’s illegal whaling operations or face contempt charges, fines and imprisonment.

I could only observe the activities of the Sea Shepherd Global crew. I was not allowed to support them, advise them or to be involved in a campaign that I had initiated in 2002.

However this gave me an opportunity to observe and to appreciate just what an incredible campaign it was and how much was achieved.

It also gave me the insight that despite establishing this campaign, Sea Shepherd is not about myself, it is now an international movement. The Japanese government sought to destroy Sea Shepherd and myself in order to end Sea Shepherd operations. They discovered that they could stop an individual and even an organization but they are powerless to stop a movement.

The crews of both vessels, men and women from some 25 nations around the world do feel somewhat disappointed and even depressed today by this announcement that Japan took their quota.

This disappointment has blinded many of them to just what an incredible thing they actually did and what an awesome victory Sea Shepherd just achieved against the formidable Japanese whaling fleet.

When we began our opposition to Japanese whaling, the Japanese had the advantage of proclaiming themselves as legal while accusing Sea Shepherd of being eco-terrorists. They had a quota of 935 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 50 fin whales. No one was intervening and it took them three solid months to secure their quotas.

The Japanese whaling fleet this year took three solid months to kill 333 whales. This averages out to 111 whales killed per month compared to 345 whales killed per month prior to Sea Shepherd’s involvement. It took them three months to kill what they once were able to do in less than one month.

A dead protected minke whale lies on the deck of the Nisshin Maru waiting to be processed. Photo by Glenn Lockitch/Sea Shepherd.

And the reason for this is a constant pursuit and the fact that two of the three harpoon boats spent a great deal of time chasing the two Sea Shepherd ships instead of hunting whales.

This translates into millions of dollars for extra fuel and running costs.

In addition Sea Shepherd was able to document continued Japanese whaling activity and to keep their illegal activities before the eyes of the international public. The evidence will also be made available to the ICJ, the IWC and the Australian Federal Court. This reinforces the contempt violations by the Australian Federal Court for which Japan has been fined a million Australian dollars.

So why were the whalers able to avoid the much faster Ocean Warrior. The reason is that in every war it is a matter of competing escalation. Japan countered the faster Sea Shepherd ship with very expensive and highly sophisticated military surveillance technology that was able to keep their floating abattoir continuously just around the corner. Sea Shepherd got close but could not close the gap.

The Japanese got their 333 whales but it took them three times as long to get that quota and costs many millions of dollars more than it should have if Sea Shepherd had not been on their tail.

In other words a very small NGO with limited resources and a volunteer crew tackled a virtual Goliath of industrial and military strength and managed to keep them on the run at enormous costs for three solid months.

The Steve Irwin and Ocean Warrior rendezvous in the Southern Ocean. Photo by Simon Ager/Sea Shepherd.

In my eyes this was an incredible achievement in a long and epic battle to defend and protect the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

From 2005 until 2014, Sea Shepherd prevented the Japanese whalers from killing over 6,000 whales. There were no whales killed at all in the 2014/2015 season. The killing of fins and humpbacks has been completely taken off the table. The quotas for minke whales have been cut to a third and there is now no question that it is Japan and not Sea Shepherd that has been acting unlawfully. Sea Shepherd’s greatest achievement in all these campaigns was exposing the evidence that resulted in Japanese whaling being universally condemned as a criminal operation.

Of course there will be criticism, especially by people who have not lifted a finger to save a single whale, that Operation Nemesis was a failure simply on the basis that the whalers took their quota of 333 whales.

Captain Paul Watson

What these critics fail to see is the larger picture. Operation Nemesis is simply the latest campaign of ten major campaigns mounted by Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean against the Japanese whaling fleet. Looked at in this context, Sea Shepherd has been winning and continues to win against this criminal operation. Sea Shepherd has cost the Japanese whaling industry well over $150 million in losses and more importantly Sea Shepherd has humiliated the arrogant Japanese government to the point that they consider Sea Shepherd to be second only to China as a continual thorn in their side.

As a student of strategic history I know that wars are won not just through individuals victories but also through using defeats strategically. Our defeats cost us very little, their victories cost them a great deal.

The North Vietnamese Army lost every single military battle against the United States yet they won the war.

During the American Revolution, General Nathanael Greene was defeated in every pitched battle which he fought against the British during his time as southern commander of the Revolutionary War. Greene’s defeat in battle after battle, divided and fatigued the British and forced them to pay heavily for a temporary advantage, a price they could not afford.

Against the money and political strength of Japan, what can a small NGO of volunteers accomplish?

The answer is that Sea Shepherd has accomplished a great deal despite Japan using the U.S. Courts to remove Sea Shepherd USA and myself from opposition, a move that actually made Sea Shepherd much stronger internationally.

An endangered fin whale in the Southern Ocean that was once a target of the Japanese whaling fleet. Photo by Simon Ager/Sea Shepherd.

Over 6,000 whales saved, the quotas cut by a third, causing Japan international embarrassment and condemnation from the International Court of Justice and continually bring international awareness to the unlawful violations of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. And all of this done with ridiculously little resources and accomplished simply because of the incredible courage, imagination and passion of so many hundreds of sea-going volunteers and so many thousands of dedicated shore volunteers.

Yes they got their quota and 333 whales have lost their lives, but we made them pay for it and all that this arrogant whale killing nation has to show for it are bragging rights to the murder of these whales in a glorified criminal national welfare program that is now, because of Sea Shepherd, condemned the world over as a despicably cruel criminal enterprise.

I am immeasurably proud of the passionate and courageous service of all the crewmembers of Operation Nemesis. They went to where no one else dared to go, searched a vast and hostile Ocean, found the fleet against all odds and took on a daunting pursuit and did everything they could with the resources available to them to stop an overwhelmingly technologically superior operation.

One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was in 1973 when I served as a medic for the American Indian Movement (AIM) during the occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. One of the leaders of that movement was Russell Means, and I went up to Russell and I said, you know, we don’t have a chance here, we are surrounded by 2,000 troops, they are shooting at us, were not going to win this, what are we doing here, and he said, “were not here because we are worried about winning or losing, were not here because we are worried about the odds against us, we are here, because this is the right thing to do, its a just thing to do, we may lose, but we have to set an example for the future”. From that great man I learned not to be concerned about the odds against us, not to worry about winning or losing, just on the doing of what needs to be done, and its amazing how many things we have taken on that everybody said it’s impossible to do, but because we actually took it on, we were able to carry it through.

We will end Japanese whaling. It is simply a matter of time, infinite patience and passionate dedication. I am confident that we will do so because I have just witnessed the exceptional, relentless and courageous resolve of the sailors of Operation Nemesis.

Welcome home. You were all bloody awesome.


The Steve Irwin arrives back in Melbourne after 90 days at sea. Photo by Eliza Muirhead/Sea Shepherd.
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