Whale Wars: IWC Goes to the Movies

Wednesday – settling into the obligatory “Whale Wars” portion of the IWC agenda, featuring an edge-of- your-seat presentation by Joji Morishita (Japan) entitled, Escalating Violence Against the Japanese by Sea Shepherd, which may as well be entitled, 101 Reasons Why I Hate Sea Shepherd and Their Bat-mobile boat.

I have seen this presentation at a previous IWC meeting – all of us here have seen it at least on one occasion – and yet, I look forward to it. I Skype my colleagues in the room, we meet in the lobby to make some popcorn, and snuggle in to the IWC equivalent of “movie date night”. Okay, not really.

During my first round, I took very assiduous notes on the presentation – not because I am a big fan of Whale Wars (the author has never owned a TV, and thanks you in advance for refraining from judgment) or Paul Watson (not even going there, thank you) – but because I have a keen appreciation for the power of rivalry to steadfastly unite a group around a common cause or philosophy. Sea Shepherd vs. Japan is the high seas equivalent of the Yankees vs. Red Sox – don’t even get me going about that.

During my second time around, I already had an expectation of a given outcome, and so could disengage myself from the punch line and instead concentrate on the details and nuances of the actual story line. In doing so, I noticed that some of the details have changed. ‘Projectiles’ became ‘flaming projectiles’. ‘Bottles’ become ‘beer bottles’. ‘Lasers’ became ‘highest intensity lasers’. I understand Joji’s need to polarize this issue further, and though he will likely not be adding members to the Morishita Fan Club as a result of this presentation, he will win support and sympathy for the issue of ensuring high standards for “Safety at Sea”, the agenda item under which this presentation is given.

The presentation includes a short video clip of the January 6th, 2010 collision between the Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil, an aquatic incarnation of the Bat-mobile, and the Shonan Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel. The video is taken from the deck of the Shonan Maru. I have included a link the same video clip here, available from Youtube.

Here is a summary of the comments from delegate interventions:

Netherlands: “The Government of the Netherlands did not have any legal recourse for denying Sea Shepherd registration under our flag, but reminded them of their obligation to maintain safety at sea”.

Australia: “Dangerous and confrontational acts are absolutely inappropriate and are not the way to resolve deep-seated differences.”

New Zealand: “NZ is the flag state of the Ady Gil and Peter Bethune is a NZ citizen in front of a Japanese court awaiting sentencing. The NZ government respects the rights of *peaceful protest* but cannot support or condone activities in the Southern Ocean that jeopardizing life and safety at sea.”

USA: “I am personaly dismayed by the increase in violence in the Southern Ocean. As long as we continue to battle within the IWC, we do not set a good example for peaceful resolution of differences and establishing discourse.”

India: “India respects the right of peaceful protests, but any differences in opinion should be resolved within the scope of law.”

Norway: “At one point, the Bob Barker illegally flew the Norwegian flag, which we are investigating. It is clear that SSCS attacked Japan, and not the other way. I would urge the Netherlands to investigate this matter vigorously.” (Speech met with applause).

Surinam: “We cannot solve problems with violence.”

Iceland: “We support everything stated by Norway and add that within this context of violence at sea, we should remove the issue of whaling activities and the right to peaceful protest.”

Japan: “Since we have been “allowing” this activity, Sea Shepherd is now attacking blue fin tuna fishermen. This culture should not be allowed. It is our responsibility to take immediate action to stop this activity. We never attack Sea Shepherd. They attack us.”

These are, by the way, the same statements issued in response to the same presentation during the March intersession meeting of the IWC, with the inclusion of a couple of additional statements from nations not present at the March meeting (e.g., India and Surinam).

Interesting thing, this Sea Shepherd/Paul Watson business. I have yet to meet a single colleague in the whale conservation community – even among the more liberal of us – who condones this reckless and blatant disregard for maritime safety on the high seas, particularly in an area as remote, unpredictable, and challenging as the Southern Ocean. Yet almost invariably, the next statement will be something to the effect of, “…but I’m glad somebody’s bringing attention to the issue.” So, there you have it. Nobody wants to be friends with Paul Watson, but we don’t necessarily want him to leave the playground, either.

I worry about this particular issue, already an inherently dangerous proposition, being played out on “reality TV”. To keep the fleeting attention span of the American public engaged enough to merit high TV ratings, the stakes must be continually raised. There’s already been one collision – there’s the expectation bar. The next step will inevitably be that somebody from either side is seriously wounded or worse.

Will death be the ultimate standard bar for reality TV? Where you even go from there?

Well… that’s a much bigger philosophical question, I suppose.

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3 Comments on “Whale Wars: IWC Goes to the Movies”

  1. Kathy Zagzebski Says:

    You pose some interesting questions, Cheryl. I find my opinions echoing that of other conservationists; while I don’t condone the actions, I’m glad there is more public awareness. But don’t get me started about reality tv….

  2. Joe Says:

    Well, Cheryl, when we meet in Monterey this November, you can say that you have finally met a colleague in the whale conservation community who does condone Sea Sherpherd’s actions. Smashing their small boat into the large whale killing ship might have been a dangerous (and expensive) act for the crew of the Ady Gil, but it is much less violent than what the crew of the Shonan Maru were doing to the whales.

    Also, Paul Watson has been a guest speaker for the Puget Sound and LA Chapters of ACS. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him speak, but he is very compassionate and motivating. Do you know the story of the sperm whale that was harpooned right in front of Paul Watson when he was with Greenpeace all those years ago? If not, I’ll tell you some time.

  3. Greg Riley Says:

    Ha! No one wants to be friends with Paul Watson… but no one wants him to go away either. Well thank god someone is taking these poachers to task. They make all the nations who play by the rules look like suckers. Reality TV… I hope a Jap ship explodes. Now THAT I would pay for on pay per view!


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