Japan’s Whale Hunters Now Use Military Technology

The efforts of whale conservationists seeking to impede or stop Japans whalers from killing minke whales has been dealt a blow. The fact that the waters around Antarctica were long ago declared a whale sanctuary has not halted Japan’s whalers. In the past, conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd have mounted campaigns of harassment and successfully blocked Japan’s ships from killing whales. But in 2017 this has changed. Despite previous successes, Sea Shepherd says it can no longer frustrate Japan’s whalers because their boats now carry hardware supplied from military sources, making the fleet highly elusive and almost impossible to track.

A few years ago the International Court of Justice – at the instigation of Australia and New Zealand – ruled that the country’s whaling plan had no scientific basis. Japan was forced to halt whale hunting and had to come back with a plan to carry out “scientific whaling” in the region. This now involves catching only 330 minkes, and no humpbacks or fin whales. But, crucially, the Japanese also doubled the area of the Southern Ocean from which they said they would seek whales, and that has made it much harder to block their hunting.

In addition, the Japanese Government has provided military tracking hardware to the fleet, according to Sea Shepherd. “Essentially, they can see exactly where we are, but we still only have a rough idea of their position. This is all part of the vast subsidy provided by the Japanese government for their whalers. And to top that they have also made it an act of terrorism for anybody to approach within 500 metres of a whaling vessel. There are putting up a lot of muscle against us.”

As a result, Sea Shepherd has decided not to send a vessel to try to interrupt Japan’s whaling efforts this year.

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All photos and text copyright © Tony Smyth