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Whale Wars How do anti-whaling groups differ from one another?

posted: 05/15/12
by: Sara Novak
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Sea Shepherd maneuvers a small outboard boat next to a Japanese whaling ship in Antarctica. From this position, Sea Shepherd can perform one of many actions designed to directly shut down the whaling fleet's operations.
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Although anti-whaling activism is relatively new, there are a number of organized groups devoted to the cause. To better understand how they differ, let's first look at how some of these groups got their start.

Major Players in the Anti-whaling World

As different as some anti-whaling groups may be, they're motivated by similar concerns. Canadian activists started Greenpeace in 1971 and launched its first anti-whaling operation in 1975 to address plummeting whale populations worldwide. At this point, 1.5 million whales had already been hunted and killed since commercial whaling began in 1925. Paul Watson, a founding member of Greenpeace, left to establish another organization, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, in 1981. With its efforts featured on the Animal Planet television series "Whale Wars," Sea Shepherd has become one of the most visible anti-whaling groups in recent years.

Anti-whaling efforts had some positive results early on, as public opinion began to turn against whaling. In 1979, the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary was established. Three years later, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an agency set up in 1946 to regulate the whaling industry, agreed to an international moratorium on commercial whaling.

In 1986, however, the IWC gave Japan an exemption from the ban, allowing the country to hunt whales for scientific purposes. As a result, several new anti-whaling groups surfaced to campaign against and monitor the newly allowed whaling activity, including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which formed in 1987. Other groups, like Whalewatch, which began in 2003, have more recently taken up the cause.

Anti-whaling Group Tactics and Support

The biggest differences among today's major anti-whaling groups probably have to do with the methods they use to achieve their goals. Groups like Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace use direct action to hinder whaling ships — including using their ships to block whaling vessels from harpooning whales. These organizations have drawn attention to the plight of whales by creating publicity through activist crusades against whaling ships from Japan, Iceland and Norway.

In contrast, non-direct action groups lobby for stronger governmental action against whaling. Whalewatch, for example, conducts research and publishes reports to raise awareness amongst law makers and the public. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society is a charity organization that uses research, petitions and lobbying efforts to peacefully push their agenda.

Support for anti-whaling organizations is widespread. According to the groups' Web sites, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society receive most of their funding from private donations. Sea Shepherd, for example, receives support from former game show host and animal welfare activist Bob Barker. According to ABC News, Barker recently donated $5 million for the purchase of a new ship. Sea Shepherd even christened the ship the Bob Barker.

Whalewatch, on the other hand, get its funding from 50 supporting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) — including the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Humane Society International, RSPCA and Animal Welfare Institute.

Anti-whaling Groups in the Public Eye

Anti-whaling groups, particularly those that use direct-action tactics, have made it into the headlines on a numerous occasions. In January 2010, for example, a Japanese patrol ship collided with a Sea Shepherd vessel, a highly sophisticated stealth boat called the Ady Gil. The incident caused serious damage to the boat, and one activist even suffered cracked ribs on impact. According to the Guardian newspaper, both sides have conflicting stories about how the crash occurred.

In a separate incident in 2008, two Greenpeace activists were arrested for trespassing and theft. The activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, were arrested after intercepting a shipment of salted whale meat from a Japanese whaling ship. According to a report in the Guardian, the activists believed the meat was headed for the black market.

So, regardless of the particular tactics they choose to use, anti-whaling groups are continuing to make an impact on the whaling industry.

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