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Nations, don't forget your responsibility to whales

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Appeal from Sea Shepherd concerning predatory whaling:
Nations, don't forget your responsibility

By Patrick Glennon on This Dish Is Veg
January 2012

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society kicked off the New Year with a formal reaffirmation of its principles, reminding all nations of their responsibility to uphold and protect designated whale sanctuaries from Japanese poachers.

Released on January 5, the appeal underscores the continuation of illegal whaling activities by Japanese fleets in Antarctica's Southern Sea, which is classified as a sanctuary under international law.

According to the SSCS, Japanese whaling crews claim the lives of 1,000 whales annually in the region.

The report reads: "Nations express disapproval and vote for regulations, treaties, moratoriums and sanctuaries, yet all of these have failed to protect the last of our great whales, even in the place we call a Whale Sanctuary."

Indeed, just last month a joint statement of disapproval was announced by the governments of the United States, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. No further punitive measures were taken against Japan.

Antarctica's Southern Sea was declared a sanctuary in 1994 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the preeminent regulator of the whaling industry. Founded in 1946, the IWC's purpose is to "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry."

Critics have accused Japan of securing its whaling interests through dubious means, buying out IWC votes by fronting the membership fees for small island nations and rewarding them with financial incentives (the realpolitik of the Japanese delegation to the IWC is depicted in 2009's harrowing documentary The Cove).

Mass movements against whaling gained traction in the mid-1970s, when organizations such as Greenpeace mobilized people across the globe to confront what many environmental and animal rights activists consider a pointless and archaic assault on one of the world's most intelligent mammals.

The SSCS emerged in the late 1970s, when founder Paul Watson -- long-time activist and sailor -- was ousted from Greenpeace over disagreements concerning direct-action tactics.

In 1979, Watson and his crew began practicing what would become their hallmark method of industry disruption -- ramming their boats into whaling vessels in order to destabilize their operations. The SSCS would take its confrontational (and controversial) brand of direct-action even further, famously sinking half of Iceland's whaling fleet stationed outside of Reykjavík in 1986--an act that subsequently led Iceland to abandon its whaling industry.

A reminder of the world's responsibility to protect the sea's increasingly fragile ecosystem, the January 5 appeal highlights the ongoing struggle of activist groups fighting what, in the words SSCS, "[o]nly nations can prevent."

For an overview of Paul Watson's activism and the work of SSCS, check out the 2008 documentary Whale Warrior: Pirate for the Sea (note to Netflix subscribers: the film is up for live-streaming).