Human Interaction

Whale Wars What are Japan’s chief complaints against Sea Shepherd?

posted: 05/15/12
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A Japanese right-wing activist raises a fist and shouts a slogan during a rally against Sea Shepherd. The rally occurred outside Tokyo's Harumi pier where a Japanese whaling ship arrived with the Sea Shepherd's Pete Bethune on Friday, March 12, 2010. Japan's coast guard arrested Bethune for illegally boarding a Japanese whaling ship in February.
AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
Dig Deeper into the Iss

A Threat to International Maritime Law

The Japanese government recognizes that not all people or countries approach whaling from its cultural perspective — one with a long tradition of taking whales and then eating their meat. Though Japan may not like or agree with outspoken critics of its whaling practices, they do not appear to deny that organizations and countries still have a right to protest whaling as much as they want.

But Japan argues that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving ecosystems and species in the oceans, operates beyond the legal bounds of this right. And it said as much in a statement delivered at the opening of the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting in 2009: "Japan views the dangerous attacks directed against Japan's vessels conducting legal research activities in the Antarctic by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a serious threat to the international maritime legal system."

Beyond Protest to Illegal Activity

Sea Shepherd, on the other hand, describes its own activities as "innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas."

Japan counters that these tactics endanger the crews of its whaling vessels and prevent them from carrying out legally authorized activities. To Japan, Sea Shepherd's actions cross beyond the boundaries of legal protest and fall into the category of illegal activity — or even eco-terrorism.

Acid, Unauthorized Entry and — a Collision

Why has Japan leveled this charge at Sea Shepherd? In January 2008, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a Sea Shepherd vessel had thrown bottles of butyric acid at one of its whaling vessels and deployed a prop fouling line. In addition, two members from the Sea Shepherd crew boarded Japan's vessel without permission.

The ministry stated, "Japan considers that the act committed by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is unacceptable behavior intended to cause unjustified harm on the safety of Japan's vessels ... and is furthermore a hazardous act potentially endangering human safety."

Two years later, similar interactions ended with a collision between a Sea Shepherd boat and a Japanese whaling vessel. Again, Japan didn't mince words, and on Jan. 7, 2010, a ministry spokesperson said, "The series of the sabotage acts taken by Sea Shepherd were very dangerous acts, which would risk the life and safety of the Japanese crew members. These acts should be strongly condemned."

Japan has demanded action from other nations, particularly those with ties to Sea Shepherd, to assist in stopping the organization's anti-whaling activities and to help take countermeasures against its tactics. These demands, and the government's increasingly strong rhetoric, seem to indicate that Japan has little patience left for this challenging presence on the high seas.

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