SYDNEY – Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd on Sunday warned Japan against resuming “research whaling” in the Antarctic while calling on the Australian government to intervene.
After a decade of harassment by Sea Shepherd, Japan was forced to abandon its 2014-15 Southern Ocean hunt after the International Court of Justice said the annual expedition was a commercial activity masquerading as research.
“The pristine waters of the Southern Ocean are once again under threat from poachers,” said Sea Shepherd Chief Executive Alex Cornelissen.
“We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd.
“As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act.”
In a related move, Australia and New Zealand separately said Saturday that they are opposed to Japan’s decision to resume what it says is research whaling.
In a statement, acting New Zealand Foreign Minister Todd McClay expressed the Oceanian country’s “deep disappointment at the Japanese government’s decision that it will return to the Southern Ocean to undertake whaling this season.”
“New Zealand is strongly opposed to whaling in the Southern Ocean,” the statement said.
“We call on Japan to take heed of the 2014 International Court of Justice decision and international scientific advice concerning their whaling activities,” he added, urging Japan to follow the ICJ order in March last year to stop its whaling.
“Australia is committed to the protection of whales and we will continue to work with the international community to promote whale conservation and uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an e-mailed statement.
During the suspension of Japan’s whale hunt, Sea Shepherd has been targeting the fishing of rare Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean.
Its main ship, the Steve Irwin, is docked in Melbourne and the group did not say whether it will once again chase the Japanese whalers. The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media said the Japanese fleet could depart possibly by the end of December.
According to Japanese reports, the nation’s fisheries agency told the International Whaling Commission it will resume its Antarctic hunt by cutting annual minke catches by two-thirds to 333.
Australia has led efforts to persuade Japan to halt whaling and Sea Shepherd called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to use diplomacy to ensure it does not resume.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has a duty to ensure that the dire matter of Japan’s whale poaching operations is at the top of the agenda when he visits Japan in December,” said Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Jeff Hansen.
NHK said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering inviting Turnbull to Tokyo as early as next month for a summit.
Despite international disapproval, Japan has hunted whales in the Southern Ocean under an exemption in the global whaling moratorium that allows for lethal research.