Australia Takes Japan Whaling To Court

This could be a big deal. Australia is challenging before the International Court Of Justice Japan’s claim that it’s Antarctic whaling program is scientific research (which is what makes it technically legal).

Whale and Dolphin Conservation is there to monitor the proceedings:

Australia’s Solicitor-General Mr. Gleeson explains why JARPA II [the Japanese whaling program] fails to exhibit essential characteristics required for it to be called science but rather qualifies its whaling as commercial:

The sheer scale and repetition speak of an operation commercial in nature and defeats the objects and purposes of the 1946 convention. Furthermore he highlights the fact of continuity: Japan continues to carry on the commercial operation it previously embarked upon with similar boats, similar crews and techniques and provides the same supply of whale products to the market. Also, Japan didn’t seem to have a great need for lethal research prior to the moratorium on commercial whaling from 1986 and no other nation before or since has found the need for scientific research on this scale.

Mr. Gleeson furthermore highlights that even though the demand for meat in Japan is falling the political goal remains to maintain a whaling industry through production of products for sale and such sales are used to fund the ongoing operations. “To service a market is evidence for commerce”, he concludes. Also, lethal research methods should always be a matter of last resort, not a first option as Japan holds it.

Bears watching, for sure. An ICJ ruling, even if Japan ignored it, would further isolate Japan over its whaling.

Leopard Seals Are Cool

Well, we knew that already. But there is no reason not to revel in it.

Not quite sure what this one is up to. But the seal’s size of pretty impressive, and that kayaker will remember his paddle with a leopard seal for a long, long time.

Will Tourists Trash Antarctica?

Conservationists are worried that the growing numbers of visitors, and their desire to do more than sit around on ships, might mar one of the few remaining pristine environments on earth:

Tourism is rebounding here five years after the financial crisis stifled what had been a burgeoning industry. And it’s not just retirees watching penguins from the deck of a ship. Visitors are taking tours inland and even engaging in “adventure tourism” like skydiving and scuba diving under the ever-sunlit skies of a Southern Hemisphere summer.

In a remote, frozen, almost pristine land where the only human residents are involved in research, that tourism comes with risks, for both the continent and the tourists. Boats pollute water and air, and create the potential for more devastating environmental damage. When something goes wrong, help can be an exceptionally long way off.

The downturn triggered by the economic meltdown created an opportunity for the 50 countries that share responsibility through the Antarctic Treaty to set rules to manage tourism, but little has been done. An international committee on Antarctica has produced just two mandatory rules since it was formed, and neither of those is yet in force.

“I think there’s been a foot off the pedal in recent years,” said Alan Hemmings, an environmental consultant on polar regions. “If it takes five years, 10 years to bring even what you agree into force, it’s very difficult to micromanage these sorts of developments.”

Antarctic tourism has grown from fewer than 2,000 visitors a year in the 1980s to more than 46,000 in 2007-08. Then the numbers plummeted, bottoming out at fewer than 27,000 in 2011-12.

Humans have an unyielding desire for self-gratification: to go new places, see new things, impress their friends at cocktail parties. And they rarely think about–or care much about–the subtle ways in which their presence affects the very ecosystems they have come to admire. They love it to death.

Whenever I visit one of the world’s natural wonders I feel both awe and sadness–sadness at how crowds and commercialism have devalued and demeaned the site. The latest place I experienced this was Niagara Falls, which is a mesmerizing natural feature as long as you keep your eyes on the astounding flow of water and don’t let them stray to the shores, where casinos, chain hotels, fast food franchises, malls, and schlock have overgrown both banks.

Antarctica has been protected from this invasion by the Southern Ocean. But every barrier eventually and increasingly yields to the lure of commercial profit. That means more noise, more pollution, more garbage, more displacement and irritation for the wildlife, and a greater potential for inadvertent disaster like fuel spills. Whatever regulations and guidelines that do get created, if any do, will favor the idea of easy tourism. And no doubt we’ll hear the argument that to save and protect Antarctica first we have to love it. And to love it we have to see it.

I would love to go to Antarctica, but to me the over-riding value that humans should take with them into the wild is: do no harm, leave no trace. That will make it harder for thousands, or millions, of tourists to access remote ecosystems. But if we can’t go to a place without destroying or degrading it, we shouldn’t go at all. Seeing and immersing yourself in a spectacular natural environment is not a right. It is not there simply for your amusement. Going into the deep wild is a privilege and it comes with a responsibility to protect.

So my regulation for Antarctic tourism would be very simple: no engines. Sail there, and paddle once you arrive. Earn the right the visit. You won’t trash the place you are admiring, and I guarantee the experience will be far more rewarding.

Sea Shepherd Goes To Sea

Whatever you think of Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, and Sea Shepherd’s confrontational anti-whaling strategy, you have to consider this: in an international whale management regime that seems custom-designed for gridlock and delay, Sea Shepherd is taking action.

Call it uncivil disobedience, and maybe that is an idea whose time has come. Increasingly, domestic politics and international diplomacy work at a pace that is insufficient to match the rapid pace of environmental change and destruction occurring around the globe. So we can rely entirely on the usual channels for resolving problems, and feel good about that, but watch whales die, seas rise, forests disappear, and extinction rates accelerate. Or we can continue with those channels but at the same time take more direct action to shock and galvanize the system to respond more quickly.

I’d argue that is what Sea Shepherd is doing with regard to whaling, and once again the Sea Shepherd fleet is headed to sea to confront the Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet:

Captain of the SSS Bob Barker, Captain Peter Hammarstedt stated, “The plan is for our fleet to meet the whaling fleet in the North Pacific off Japan. We are planning to take the battle pretty much up to Japan itself. We are keeping the location and identity of our new vessel, the SSS Sam Simon, a secret in the hope that the first time the whalers see the Sam, is when she comes into view on the slipway of the factory processing ship, the Nisshin Maru, effectively shutting down their illegal whaling operations.”

Currently docked in Marina del Rey, California on its very first trip to the mainland U.S., the fast scout vessel, the SSS Brigitte Bardot, will depart on November 11 and quickly meet up with the rest of the Sea Shepherd fleet.

Hammarstedt also went on to say “it is expected Sea Shepherd Founder and President Captain Paul Watson will appear in command of one of the vessels when the action begins.” Captain Watson has been in an undisclosed location since July 22 when he forfeited his bail and departed house arrest in Germany to avoid being extradited on bogus charges to Costa Rica and Japan.

Australian Director Jeff Hansen stated, “This is our strongest fleet to date, with four ships and more than 100 international crew representing 23 nations to defend the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Operation Zero Tolerance will be Sea Shepherd’s best-equipped and most effective campaign to date. This is a defining moment in Sea Shepherd’s history; we have no tolerance for whale poachers. Our objective this year is 100%. We are going to try and intercept them as quickly as possible, and try to make this the first year they get zero kills.”

I’m excited that dedicated animal rights defender Sam Simon will have a ship out there, and I’m sure it will get into some crazy trouble. But lest you are tempted to dismiss the Sea Shepherd campaign as trivial or a sideshow, please note the fact that Sea Shepherd has likely saved the lives of thousands of whales (they claim more than 3,600).

If you don’t think that really matters, then watch the death of just a single whale (dramatized as it is for Whale Wars). It will make you want to sign on as Sea Shepherd crew.

The Allure Of The Antarctic

The Antarctic is remote, relatively unspoiled, and infinitely intriguing. In case you doubt it, here is a spectacular collection of photographs from the Antarctic, compiled by the always stunning In Focus feature, over at The Atlantic. Make sure you take a few minutes to browse the full gallery of 47 shots, but here are a few of my favorites:

 

The aurora australis provides a dramatic backdrop to a Scott Tent at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on July 14, 2009. (National Science Foundation/Patrick Cullis)
A leopard seal captures a Gentoo penguin near Palmer Station, Antarctica on April 4th, 2009. (National Science Foundation/Sean Bonnette)
A 20-minute exposure reveals the southern celestial axis above the new elevated station at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on July 21, 2009. At the poles, scientists can study a fixed point in the sky for months and years, whereas in the middle latitutes the stars 'move' across the night sky. The white cloudy streak is the Milky Way. (National Science Foundation/Patrick Cullis)
Gentoo penguins squabble in their colony in Antarctica on November 24th, 2010. Photographed as part of a fundraiser/trip titled the Penguin Project. (pinguino k / CC BY)
Heavy equipment operators work to clear snow and smooth the annual sea ice near McMurdo Station, creating a landing strip in this photo taken September 24, 2009. The first C-17 jet of the austral summer landed on this runway with passengers and cargo on September 29, kicking off another season of scientific research for the US Antarctic Program. (National Science Foundation/Lori Gravelle)
Raised footprints in the Antarctic snow. After a storm, the loose snow surrounding the compacted snow under a footprint is scoured away by the wind, leaving an elevated strange-looking footprints. Original here. (Alan R. Light / CC BY)
In this photo taken on Feb. 9, 2011 and released by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru approaches Sea Shepherd's high-speed trimaran Gojira while using water cannons during their encounter in Southern Ocean, Antarctica. Japan has temporarily suspended its annual Antarctic whaling after repeated harassment by the conservationist group, a government official said Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Sea Shepherd, Simon Ager)
A Weddell Sea finds a human-made hole in the annual sea ice a convenient opportunity to catch her breath on November 7, 2009. (National Science Foundation/Robyn Waserman)

 

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