In 2009, The Cove shocked Western audiences with its brutally graphic depiction of the Japanese dolphin industry. The very same year, the International Whaling Commission released a damning report regarding the country’s continued abuse of laws against excessively violent whaling techniques. Now, amidst a recent clash between whalers and environmental activists, 2012 seems to have kicked off with a bang for one of Japan’s most maligned and reviled industries.

For the Japanese people, it is tied to an ancient practice that has existed for almost a Millennium. For the rest of the world, it is a barbaric tradition rooted in the past. Whatever one believes about Japan’s persistent hunting of marine mammals, it is evident that such negative headlines will only increase the disparagingly bleak opinions held by most Westerners. The question remains, however, what are the actual motives behind consistently defying the international status quo?

…the only activist of his kind to have been placed on Interpol’s most wanted list…

According to some experts, it is Japan’s relative inability to provide stable food sources for its people that is at the heart of its pursuit for pelagic whaling. Yet only 170 whales were caught last year, prompting many to query whether it does have any real significance for the majority of the Japanese people, who, much like their European counterparts, have a diet fairly void of whale meat. Japan’s whaling season is nevertheless in full swing, with whole fleets descending upon vast swathes of Southern Ocean territory. Their presence has, of course, been met with vehement dissidence from a multitude of environmental protection groups, none more so than the marine conservation organisation, Sea Shepherd.

Only two months ago, the Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd became embroiled within a federal law suit against Sea Shepherd and its owner, Paul Watson. A former Greenpeace board member whose modus operandi of preference were deemed to be too violent, he is the only activist of his kind to have been placed on Interpol’s most wanted list. Whether the international community will actually take any note of this remains to be seen, as his status as a criminal is largely derived from Japanese grievances, as opposed to any major wrongdoing. Yet clashes such as the one seen recently are another step on the path to increasingly escalated violence between the two groups.

…tensions between eco-friendly groups and the Japanese government are only set to increase…

It is no help, therefore, that Paul Watson has dubbed 2012 as “Operation Kamikaze”, a year in which the conservationist organisation will undertake their most dangerous work to date. What such dynamic, albeit tactless names allude to, is yet to be fully seen by both Japan and the international community. Nevertheless, it is clear that tensions between eco-friendly groups and the Japanese government are only set to increase over the coming year.

Last week’s skirmish ended in some minor cuts and bruises, but the ominous campaign and intrepid actions of such organisations have yet to reach a crescendo, prompting one to believe that 2012 could be the year of major developments in the fight against illegal whaling.

Image courtesy of Lou Romig


About The Author

Modern Languages student at UCL with an interest in Current Affairs and Sport.

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