A Whale of a Week
The Japanese whaling fleet gives up and heads home
By Michael Mountain
A Sea Shepherd vessel (left) has a water exchange with a Japanese whaling ship
If you watch the TV show Whale Wars, you know that the folks at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been patrolling the Southern Ocean for several years, getting in the way of Japanese whaling ships and generally making a most excellent nuisance of themselves. This week, they claimed victory.
The Japanese have been flouting international agreements regarding the killing of whales by calling what they do “scientific research.” This is all nonsense, and everyone knows it. But how do you define scientific research? So it just goes on. The industry also calls it a “tradition” and part of their “culture” – the same last-resort defense that’s used to justify bull-fighting, the Iditarod and shark-fin soup.
The whales are harpooned and then killed and dragged aboard these giant factory ships and they end up as slabs of frozen shrink-wrapped whale meat in Japanese supermarkets. The trouble is, fewer people in Japan really want to eat whale meat, so the butchering industry has resorted to slipping it into school lunches for unsuspecting kids and their parents.
Meanwhile, the Sea Shepherd folks have been following them around and intercepting their ships for years, doing all those heroic and often dangerous maneuvers you see on Whale Wars: getting in the way, blocking the path between the whaling ships and the whales and causing whatever peaceful trouble they can. When a Japanese ship rammed one of their boats and wrecked it, the famous animal lover Bob Barker, former host of, stepped in and bought them a new one.
Finally, this week, the Japanese caved. I never imagined this would happen. I don’t think the Sea Shepherd people did, either. But the whaling fleet has indeed called it quits in the Southern Ocean, at least for this season, and as one of their ships changed course and started heading for home, the Japanese government made it official that the fleet had been recalled.
Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd and captain of its fleet, is needless to say, thrilled. “I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations including Japan,” he said. “And they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary.”
A humpback whale dives near one of the Sea Shepherd ships
Good news for whales and dolphins is hard to come by these days. There are still ongoing dolphin massacres at the Japanese fishing town of Taiji, scene of the Oscar-winning movie The Cove. And whales have more and more challenges in the ocean – from acid waters to sunburn from the ozone hole to navy sonar experiments to the noise of commercial shipping that’s like living on a Manhattan street corner.
But what we learned this week is that where there’s a will there’s a way. Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd crews have kept up their peaceful whale wars for many years now; and it looks like it’s beginning to pay off. Campaigns like these can take a long time, and there will always be hardship and setbacks along the way. But eventually, good does triumph.
That’s because, in the final analysis, good is always stronger than evil.