In a series of cables sent from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo and made public by WikiLeaks, we learn that Japan asked the U.S. to take action against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for harassing Japanese whalers. Japan specifically asked that the group’s tax-exempt status be revoked.
These cables were sent two months before a Japanese harpoon vessel collided with one of the Sea Shepherd boats, destroying it.
The four U.S. diplomatic cables show the U.S. State Department trying to push Japan toward compromise in its controversial whale hunting activities. Japan, meanwhile, repeatedly argues that Sea Shepherd is preventing constructive negotiating efforts.
Indeed, Japan’s troubles with the Sea Shepherd group are first mentioned in a November 2009 cable, where the Japanese government argues that Sea Shepherd is what is actually interfering with the Japanese government’s efforts to limit its infamous whale hunts.
Whale meat for sale in Japan has nothing to do “scientific research.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Japan reports that “[Vice Minister] Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan’s request for the U.S. to take action against the organization, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas.”
Japan continues to hunt down and kill whales despite a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling. Japanese whaling ships exploit a small exception in the agreement that allows whales be caught for research purposes, arguing that the whales it kills are for “scientific research.” What they actually do is kill over 500 whales each season and sell the bodies for whale meat.
Australia tries to cut a deal
Other documents show that the government of Australia was also secretly prepared to cut a deal with Japan to accept a continued whale hunt even though it was publicly calling for Japan to be brought before an international court over its whaling program.
Under this deal, Japan would kill 5,000 fewer whales over 10 years. Their ships would also leave humpback and fin whales alone, and the “scientific” loophole would be closed.
The cables show that Australia’s environment minister, Peter Garrett, warned the US ambassador that people in his country were increasingly against whaling and that it was becoming more difficult to cut a deal with Japan.
Two weeks later, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd went on television to say the whale hunt must be abandoned. ”What we’re putting to the Japanese is to take where they are now, which is the slaughter of some hundreds of whales each year, and reduce that to zero,” he said.
No indication that Japan will budge
Another cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo quotes the director general of the Fisheries Agency of Japan as saying U.S. action regarding the Sea Shepherd group would “positively influence Japan’s negotiating position in the Future of the IWC [International Whaling Commission] process.”
The U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission seems to take the side of the Japanese, responding that the U.S. government “can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.”
Asked to comment on these cables recently, Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, told the Associated Press “we have had our tax status since 1981, and we have done nothing different since then to cause the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to change that.”
And since there has never been any indication of Japan’s willingness to limit its whaling activities before Sea Shepherd started monitoring them, there’s no reason to believe that the Japanese would change their behavior if the U.S. government now intervened with Sea Shepherd.
Indeed, the latest proposal for the international community to agree to Japan doing limited commercial whaling in its coastal waters in exchange for killing fewer whales was floated in March, 2010. In response, the International Whaling Commission, which most observers consider to be entirely gutless in the face of threats from the Japanese, decided to put off further discussion for another year – and another approximately 500 whales.