CANBERRA, Australia—Environmental activists here are abandoning their annual anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, saying Japan’s threat to defend its fleet is too daunting.
Capt. Paul Watson, the founder of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, said Japan’s threat to dispatch its military was unprecedented.
“For the first time ever, they have stated they may send their military to defend their illegal whaling activities,” Capt. Watson said in a statement Tuesday. “The Japanese whalers not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic superpower.”
The Japanese embassy in Canberra didn’t immediately respond to Sea Shepherd’s announcement, but it previously accused the group of sabotage and “acts of violence which seriously endangered the safe navigation of vessels.”
Some of Sea Shepherd’s tactics include ramming whaling vessels and throwing stink bombs onto the decks of Japanese ships. In January 2010, one of Sea Shepherd’s boats sank after a collision with a whaling vessel.
The group’s decision to suspend its campaign after 12 years leaves Japan’s fleet free to resume whaling through the coming Antarctic summer without disruption. Japan’s whaling fleet last year reported killing 333 minke whales, with plans to cull about 4,000 whales over the next 12 years under a quota set by the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo.
The International Whaling Commission put in place a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. The next year, Japan embarked on a cull that it said was in the name of science, not commerce. Japan says it has a right to monitor whales’ impact on the fishing industry, though it also claims they are an important part of its cultural and culinary heritage. Activists say scientific whaling is aimed at circumventing the 1986 ban.
Last month, Japan’s Parliament passed a series of laws allowing for the protection of commercial whaling fleets. The International Court of Justice ruled against Japan in a scientific-whaling case in 2014.
Australia’s government condemned Japan’s new whaling laws last month, saying they weren’t consistent with the 2014 ruling. Tokyo has withdrawn from the court’s jurisdiction with regard to whaling cases.
“The Australian government does not consider that Japan’s whaling program is for the purposes of scientific research,” Attorney-General George Brandis said. “We contest the Japanese government’s position in international tribunals.”
Australia’s navy used to police whale sanctuaries in the Southern Ocean that Japan’s government refuses to recognize, though it hasn’t sent a large patrol ship to the area since 2012.
Capt. Watson said Sea Shepherd would resume anti-whaling efforts in the future, not only against the Japanese, but also in opposition to Norwegian, Danish and Icelandic whaling. “This is what we have been doing for 40 years,” he said.
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