The controversial issue of whaling does not only trigger a war of words. There have been showdowns on the high seas as environmental activists try to stop whalers hunting.
In January, a futuristic protest boat had its bow sliced off in a collision with a Japanese ship in Antarctic waters. The radical Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has become a thorn in the side of Tokyo’s fleet as it pursues its annual cull. But the group is not alone in denouncing Japan which hunts hundreds of whales each season for what it says are research purposes.
Australia is one of the closest nations to the waters where the cull is conducted. It is a long-time opponent of Japan’s scientific whaling. The two nations have discussed their differences but their positions seem irreconcilable.
Hence Canberra’s announcement in February that it was taking a stand.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said:
“Australia will pursue, before the International Whaling Commission, a proposal which would see whaling in the great Southern Oceans phased out over a reasonable period of time.”
His Japanese counterpart Katsuya Okada responded:
“Should court action become a reality, Japan will seek to represent its case that their activities are legal and accepted by the IWC.”
Later, Australia announced that it would take Tokyo to the International Court of Justice over the issue.
Japan does not hide the fact that its whale meat is eaten at home where it is considered a delicacy and a cultural tradition.
In Japan, frozen Antarctic whale meat is sold for the equivalent of 27 euros a kilo. Parts of the locally-caught catch can sell for up to 900 euros a kilo.
The scale of Japan’s activities compared to the other two whaling nations can be seen from last year’s figures. Japan hunted 1,004 whales in 2009 while Norway caught 536 and Iceland 38. All three countries currently set their own quotas and hunt whales outside the IWC’s control.
After resuming commercial whaling, Iceland made its first catch four years ago. With the issue stirring strong emotions on both sides, any compromise will be difficult to reach.