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TOKYO, Mar 2 2012 (IPS) - The arrest and release of a Dutch activist in Japan has put in bad light this country’s refusal to heed international calls to limit traditional dolphin and whale hunting practices in favour of conservation.
“The arrest (of Erwin Vermeulen) was intended to intimidate us to leave Taiji (a fishing town where dolphins are corralled for mass slaughter),” said Scott West, director for investigations with the United States-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).
“But the effect is the opposite as more volunteers are signing up to join our activities to stop dolphin and whale killing,” said West.
By sending foreign volunteers like Vermeulen to Taiji, SSCS has raised hackles in Japan, especially after it took a confrontational stance by publishing footage of bloody dolphin hunts in the southern Japan fishing town.
Taiji’s dolphin slaughters came under international glare in 2010 after a film on the annual ritual, titled ‘The Cove’, claimed the Academy Award for best documentary in that year.
While Vermeulen’s release on Feb. 22 proved that he had not pushed a guard on Dec. 16 as charged, activists say it did nothing to change deep-rooted attitudes to cetacean hunting in this country.
While it is also opposed to whaling, Greenpeace Japan has distanced itself from Sea Shepherd’s confrontational approach, preferring to focus its campaign on issues such as mercury contamination of whale meat.
The local media portrays SSCS as an aggressive organisation, citing its use of laser beams and drones to harass whalers.
In a January editorial, ‘Japan Times’, a leading English language daily, accused the organisation of “crossing the line from peaceful protest and reasonable monitoring to violent confrontation that could harm a crew member on either side.”
But the controversy appears to be playing out in Sea Shepherd’s favour.
On Feb. 21 a federal court in Seattle denied an injunction sought by the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research to restrain Sea Shepherd from carrying on its anti-whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean.
Western countries, including the U.S. and Australia, that respect an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on whaling, want Japan to stop its ‘scientific expeditions’.
While the IWC, under a 1987 decision, allows the killing of 1,000 whales in the Antarctic Ocean for research purposes, annually, much of the meat ends up being sold commercially.
Activists have, over many years, accused Japan of taking advantage of the IWC quota to persist with commercial whaling, endangering the mammals.
Japan is also being accused of spending billions of dollars to prop up aging whalers and insisting on its right to carry on traditional whaling, much like Norway, another major whaling nation.
Sea Shepherd tactics have highlighted wasteful public funding to support an industry that is fast becoming obsolete. The organisation’s campaign forced Japan to call off its scientific whaling in the Antarctic last March.
In his book “How to Catch Dolphins,” released in 2010, Prof. Yusuke Sekiguchi, a whaling researcher, says Japan’s dolphin catches are based on a culture where animals are caught, killed and eaten with gratitude to providence.
Naoko Koyama of the Institute of Biodiversity in Japan, a Kyoto-based non-government oganisation which is working to stop dolphins from being captured alive for aquariums, said the clash over Japanese culling has overtones of a clash between Japanese and Western cultures.
“As protestors we need to be able to avoid getting into this narrow debate,” she said.
Koyama’s small organisation of 15 members bases its campaign on spreading facts about the negative impact on wild mammals when imprisoned in aquariums for commercial profits.
“The results have been encouraging as the people who listen to us become supporters of our organisation,” she said.
Iwao Takayama, defence attorney for Vermeulen, said “foreign activists are talking of respecting the law, the basis for the victory in the lawsuit. But to buy respect in Japan, it is important to try to talk it out, preferably in Japanese.”
Takayama said prosecutors tried hard to present the case against Vermeulen as one between SSCS and the Japanese government. “It was obvious they resorted to this to appeal to Japanese sentiments,” he said.
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