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Do anti-whaling campaigns backfire in Japan?
by Staff Writers
Saint Helier, United Kingdom (AFP) July 12, 2011

Campaigns to harass Japan's whaling fleet only harden domestic opinion against environmentalists, a Japanese observer says at global whaling talks in the British Channel Islands.

Most Japanese shun whale as food and many are sympathetic to the arguments of conservationists seeking to protect the huge sea mammals, but do not want to feel bullied, said Atsushi Ishii, a Tokyo University professor and author of "Anatomy of the Whaling Debate".

"The majority of Japanese are anti-antiwhaling," Ishii told AFP.

"They don't want whalemeat, but they don't want the anti-whaling organisations to tell them what to do."

Much of that ire is directed at the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, headed by Paul Watson.

In February, Japan recalled its Antarctic whaling fleet a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference and harassment from ships operated by Sea Shepherd.

Watson has already said he plans to resume his campaign and predicted Japan will abandon hunting in Antarctica, one of two whale preserves in the world.

But even for Japanese opposed to large-scale whaling, Ishii said, "the anti-whaling movement has to stop. The movement is actually increasing support (in Japan) for scientific whaling."

Despite a moratorium that went into effect in 1986, Japan conducts whale hunting under the guise of "scientific research", setting self-determined quotas averaging about 1,000 whales each year over the last five years.

This practice is permissible within the rules of the IWC.

But other nations and environmental groups fiercely condemn it, seeing it as a cover for commercial operations.

Ishii agreed that the annual hunt was of scant scientific value, and said that the practice exists mainly to justify an annual subsidy of about five million dollars to the industry.

Even if Sea Shepherd succeeds in chasing Japanese whalers from Antarctica this year, it may not be the clear-cut victory that Watson describes.

"It depends on how you define victory," said Ishii, who is attending the 63rd meeting of the IWC, which got underway on Monday on the island of Jersey.

"Whalemeat has not been selling well in Japan for years. The reality is that the whaling industry doesn't want more meat," he said.

Frozen stocks of whalemeat stand at more than 6,000 tonnes, enough to keep the country in supply at current consumption rates for 18 months, he said.

"So the Sea Shepherd attacks actually work in favour of the (government's) Fisheries Agency and the whaling industry, providing a reason to pull back from the Antarctic without having fulfilled its official targets."

Ishii thinks that the Japanese government is, in fact, trying to find a way to curtail whaling operations in Antarctic waters, but politically does not want to be seen as caving in to foreign pressure.

"If we pull out of Antarctica, it would be perceived as a total loss against the anti-whaling organisations. Politicians are not eager to accept that," he said.

Watson said he doubted that his actions were boosting consumption of whale meat in Japan, but added that he was, in any case, indifferent to Japanese public opinion.

"I don't think that's true but I don't really care. My objective is to stop their illegal activities and we are succeeding in doing that," he told AFP.

"We are not going to convince the people of Japan to stop killing whales but we can force them by bankrupting them (the whalers). I'm not interested in educating the Japanese people."

Ishii said that the only long-term compromise possible at the deeply riven whaling body would be for Japan to accept the ban on Antarctic whaling in return for a lifting of the moratorium for limited hunting in national coastal waters.

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Greenpeace loses appeal in Japan whale meat case
Tokyo (AFP) July 12, 2011 - A Japanese court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by two Greenpeace activists sentenced to suspended one-year jail terms for stealing a box of whale meat as part of an investigation.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were convicted of theft and trespass last September by the Aomori district court for illegally taking a 23-kilogramme (50-pound) box filled with whale meat in 2008.

The environmental activists contend that they acted in the public interest by exposing embezzlement in the state-funded whaling programme, which Japan says it carries out for scientific research.

They admitted to entering a truck depot and stealing the salted whale meat, which was destined for the home of a whaling crew member, but appealed the sentence against them, saying they were exposing graft.

The Sendai High Court rejected the appeal, an official told AFP.

Ahead of the ruling, Sato said in video footage: "This is a trial concerning people's right to know and freedom of expression. If the people's right to know is upheld, it will be useful for Japan to build a democratic society."

"The government can no longer ignore the embezzlement we exposed," Sato, now the Greenpeace Japan executive director, added in a statement, referring to claims some whalers secretly trade in whale meat.

"It must fully investigate the whale meat scandal, finally end its support for the expensive, unwanted and unneeded whaling programme, and put the money wasted on it into recovering from the March 11 disaster."

Commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, but Japan has since culled hundreds of the ocean mammals annually in the name of science.

Japan has repeatedly clashed with activists over the hunting of both whales and dolphins -- including in annual high-seas confrontations with another environmental group, the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

In July last year, a Sea Shepherd activist, New Zealander Peter Bethune, received a suspended two-year jail term over clashes with whalers in Antarctic waters in which he scaled a harpoon ship. He was deported after the sentence.

Dolphin hunting, which many Japanese defend as a tradition, has also brought activists to Japan after the Oscar-winning eco-documentary "The Cove" shone a spotlight on the annual slaughter in the coastal town of Taiji.

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'Death by plastic': Is ocean garbage killing whales?
Paris (AFP) July 10, 2011
Millions of tonnes of plastic debris dumped each year in the world's oceans could pose a lethal threat to whales, according to a scientific assessment to be presented at a key international whaling forum this week. A review of research literature from the last two decades reveals hundreds of cases in which cetaceans - an order including 80-odd species of whales, dolphins and porpoises - ha ... read more

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