Antarctic Treaty Seemingly Not for Whales’ Sake


In recent weeks, the Australian Government has engaged in a carefully choreographed piece of diplomatic and political chest beating over Japan’s so called “scientific whaling,” which has amounted to absolutely nothing.

In a string of media interviews, the Environment Minister Tony Burke has repeatedly called the Japanese behavior “wrong” even outright “illegal,” but has stopped short of doing anything about it.

Burke’s argument is that while the activities of the Japanese fleet were occurring in Australian territorial waters off the coast of the Antarctic, the sacrosanct Antarctic Treaty System would be undermined if Australia actually intervened or even monitored the situation with its own vessels, opening the continent to much more harmful mining exploitation.

The Treaty itself was signed in 1961 by twelve countries including Australia and Japan, and entered into force two years later. Today more than 50 countries are party to the Treaty.

At the time, many countries were primarily worried about the militarization of the only continent without a native human population; particularly for use as a nuclear test site or as a base designed to ensure safe passage around Cape Horn for vessels crossing from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans if the Panama Canal became unnavigable for whatever reason.

However, in recent years the real risk of any Antarctic competition has come in the form of an economic rather than strategic imperative, with its high-value natural resource deposits and, to a lesser but more bloody extent, ocean stocks such as whales.

Therefore, it is important to note that in an impressive act of foresight the Treaty went beyond such strategic considerations and established the continent as a scientific and natural reserve.

But this factoid seems to have been forgotten somewhat conveniently by the Australian Government, which seems to believe that a peaceful and temporary military presence to curb natural exploitation will be seen as violating the treaty and open the country up to commercial exploitation.

Burke’s argument presumably rests in isolation on Article I of the Treaty, and even then only on the part that deals with military activity on the continent, mentioning explicitly the example cited earlier of nuclear testing. However, the Article does go on to endorse military activity on the continent so long as it is for “scientific research or any other peaceful purpose.”

And of course this says nothing of the remaining 13 Articles, which are designed to uphold the basis of the continent’s scientific and natural reserve that are now being broken to varying degrees by the Japanese (including, for example, accusations that they are also using heavy fuel oil below the 60 degree line of latitude).

Japan’s ludicrous defense of course is that their activities are merely “scientific research,” utilizing a loophole that dates back to the 1946 establishment of the International Whaling Commission when the industry became heavily commercialized and a subsequent 1986 moratorium, both of which included the scientific exception for whaling alongside small amounts for indigenous populations and other cases.

However, a 2006 ABC investigation found that only four academic papers had been published by the Japanese that required fatal whaling practices, in contrast to an estimated 6,800 whale deaths in the previous 16 years. In other words, one academic paper per 1,700 whales killed.

Therefore it is little wonder populations around the world remained horrified by Japan’s activities.

A 2008 poll by The Lowy Institute found 58 percent of Australians held the most uncompromising view of whaling, and believed their country should do more to stop it even if it risked hurting economic relations with Japan. In contrast, only 4 percent argued Australia’s economic relations should be held in higher esteem, with 3 percent not wanting whaling stopped regardless, and 33 percent believing the then more activist approach of the Rudd Government to whaling was about right.

Indeed, during the 2007 election, then-Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and, following his election, deployed the Customs vessel, Oceanic Viking, to the same waters in January 2008 on a twenty-day mission to track and monitor the Japanese whaling fleet and record evidence for such a legal challenge. The move was almost universally applauded and in May 2010 a formal case was lodged with the ICJ in The Hague, which is still pending.

Since then, Australia’s activism has been gradually stepped down in all corridors, particularly given the sensitivities that emerged in the bilateral relations with Tokyo in early 2008 over perceived neglect vis-à-vis China and a Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister. However, other countries including New Zealand have increasingly become interested in and attracted to Australia’s ICJ approach. And while WikiLeaks cables revealed the Australian Government itself was hesitant to take legal action, there is little doubt this sort of professional diplomacy is likely where a long term impact will be made; especially if Australia can build a coalition of supportive countries and seek to influence the new Japanese leadership.

For their part, the Opposition recently called on the Government to deploy a vessel to our Antarctic waters and they should have done so.

However, Burke asserted that this would only “make the situation so much worse” when the vessel would implicitly be forced to condone the activity by having to “watch and do nothing.” But the reality is that this is exactly what the Government was already doing, albeit to a greater degree by being more than 2,000 kilometers away.

All this says nothing of course of the danger in the way the situation was being handled. If the current trajectory is allowed to continue it is likely only a matter of time until a member of the Japanese fleet or the Sea Shepherd is injured or even killed, and when that time comes it will be Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority that will be responsible for managing the incident if it occurs in national waters. With reports of collisions between vessels as recently as last month, the threat of an oil spill remains a real and present danger. .

At the end of the day, by sending a ship to the waters Australia would not be asserting itself against one nation, but rather asserting international law and standing up for the values it presumably holds to be true. And while deploying a vessel might not stop the whaling, it will at least show the Japanese that Australia is watching and bring a needed dose of caution to the situation.  

So all this begs the question: what is the point of having a treaty if countries do not defend it and the values they believe in?

Thom Woodroofe is an associate fellow of The Asia Society. Follow on Twitter @thomwoodroofe.

Boo Radley
March 31, 2013 at 12:00

Mr roheda or whatever his name is sounds a lot like Proganda Buster texas daddy boy? 


Ryohei Uchida
March 19, 2013 at 11:19

Katy, I can tell you are passionate and emotional about this isue, but I think there are some other considerations you might like to take into account.

Firstly, Japanese consumption of whale meat may indeed be low. However, one could argue that Australian consumption of kangaroo meat is similarly low, as is German consumption of quail meat, for instance. But no one uses this to prohibit the Australian consumption of kangaroo meat nor the German consumption of quail meat. Further, un-utilised whale meat is stored in freezers in Japan until such time as it can be utilised. Therefore, there is no wasteage at all. Contrast this to the millions of tonnes of beef, pork and chicken that are dumped into the garbage every year and it is clear which is the more wasteful industry.

As for your claim regarding the issue of a humane kill for whales, you are mistaken on this point. The IWC Scientific Committee itself has acknowledged that kill times using modern penthrite grenade harpooning are instant in the vast majority of cases, and in the remainder very quick. The idea of the prolonged and painful kill of whales is simply a myth propagated by the anti-whaling industry. While the killing of any animal may indeed be an unpleasant affair, the harvest of whales using modern techniques are no more unpleasant than other practices.

You also voiced ojection to the Japanese government using its money to support its whaling industry. I am unsure as to why you would be concerned with Japanese fiscal policy, but I will point out that a great many countries pay huge subsidies to their respective agricultural and farming sectors without people using that as a reason to prohibit those industries. It is unclear why you have selectively chosen Japanese whaling for particular scrutiny in this regard.

March 19, 2013 at 01:53

Mr. Uchida,

Your points are eloquently made, but the very fact that Japanese people aren’t eating the whale meat trumps all of them. The lives of the slaughtered whales are being wasted, and that shows ultimate disrespect for the creatures you share the world with. Not only do these beautiful, graceful beings have exploding harpoons shot into their bodies, they are left to drown in their own blood. And then their meat is packaged and shipped to a freezer where it will presumably stay forever since nobody’s eating it. How does that make any sense? And what about all of the money the Japanese government is spending just to keep the whaling business going? 29 million of that came from a disaster relief fund, I might add. The whole thing stinks and I wish it would stop.

Captain Paul Watson
March 16, 2013 at 08:27

Sorry to disappoint you but I have my passport back. I see the ICR gave you a file of propaganda to desseminate in your tirades. The entire campaign was filmed with multiple camera angles so your ridiculous accusation that Sea Shepherd ships rammed the tanker holds no water. Look Uchida, you're a paid lacky of the ICR, you say what they pay you to say so why would anyone take anything you say seriously?  As for the campaign, it was a great success. Last year the poachers took only 26% of what they came for. The year before that they took only 17% and this year it will be less than 10%. Our supporters are very happy with the campaign and the Japanese whalers are very unhappy and that makes it a great success in my books.

azza elsherbiny
March 16, 2013 at 07:37

pls help to save animals

John Chan
March 15, 2013 at 22:17

Needing a job is a real plight that people could understand, but I cannot understand why does the Japanese have to massacre hundreds of thousands of whales unnecessary in a industry scale? Since commercial whaling in Japan is a government’s make job project, the whales they killed are merely stockpiling up in the warehouses because Japanese do not consume whale as food anymore; can’t the Japanese hunt whales without factory ships coming along? So that people still can keep their jobs while the amount of whales killed will be reduced drastically that will not endanger the species of whale.

Japanese massacring whales senselessly in industrial scale reminds people that their character is identical to their forebears who massacred human being in industrial scale with cruelty and heartless.

Hector Gonzalez
March 15, 2013 at 10:16

This guy's got it figured.

winston kirk
March 15, 2013 at 09:53

Good morning Mr Uchida many thanks for your reply you said in your letter We Japanese do you speak for all the people all over Japan men women and children. I also know that you agree with me completely with my letter but you cant say freely because you are being employed  as a mouthpiece by the govenment of Japan its likeTokyo Rose was  and its just a job you have to do as everyone needs a job even though they dont always like what they do as we all need money to survive and the economy is so bad in Japan now but as I said before you all have to get your act together and put your energy that you have instead of wasting it in negitve ways lose your pride you have and start building your great country back again and if you are lucky you might win the 2020 games which Japan needs so much more than killing whales and dolphines. Realy Japan needs these games more than you can imagine right now . Bring back a positive image to Japan.

John Chan
March 15, 2013 at 00:22

@winston kirk,

Sorry typo, the comment should be addressed to Ryohei Uchida.

John Chan
March 15, 2013 at 00:15

@winston kirk

If Japan is a beautiful culture then Nazi Germany should not be demonized. Nazi Germany’s barbarism seems dwarf comparing to your beautiful Japan culture. The following link let you see how ugly the Japanese culture is.

Hell cannot be worse than living under Japanese control. Japan is an unapologetic war criminal, a history and atrocity denier and a born pirate. Its ultra Fascist national sentiment is a danger to the peace and humanity. Despite international condemnation Japanese ruthless commercial killing of whales that they don’t eat and don’t need is a reflection of continuation of their barbaric forebear’s nature and character, cruel and compassionless.

Your misguide compassion not only harmful to the endangered whales; it is also glossing over true nature of an ugly culture.

Ser Gregor Clegane
March 14, 2013 at 19:28

All Australia has to do to stop the whaling in Australian waters is threaten to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the Senkakus. That would get Japan’s attention.

March 14, 2013 at 19:17

Ever cut up a cake. Scientists are smart but silly all the are doing is looking for energy. The deal is once it is drilling for commercial all bets are off. That is the agreement with Russia. Everyone talks about the new world order but when it comes to the world. It is still the US and Russia that matter. Russia is building icebreakers the US is not no ice. Thats when Putin says he knows when the world will end he does it is a living thing and we are killing it, how long we got he told you.

Ryohei Uchida
March 14, 2013 at 15:23

Winston, I'm glad to hear you're fond of Japanese culture.

But while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I feel I've got to break it to you that we Japanese are not here for the purpose of pleasing you and your arbitary and sentimental whims. You enjoyed watching Free Willy and you think whales are cute and fantastic, and that's great for you. But what does that have to do with us? Let's not forget that Australia was butchering whales by the hundreds of thousands right up until 1978 when the industry became unprofitable.

Yet now you expect the rest of the world to abide by some decluded sense of self-righteousness you've developed with regards to whales and to listen to sanctimonious preaching from the world's worst per capita polluters?

Captain Ryohei Uchida
March 14, 2013 at 15:05

Well well, if it isn’t the fleshy fugitive himself.

Strange that he’d be here trolling the internet while the Japanese cetacean research fleet is busy down in the Southern Ocean conducting whale harvest completely unhindered. Because, he and Sea Shepherd have raked in millions of dollars in donations under the guise of “shutting down the whaling”, and yet they have done nothing of the sort. They rammed a fully laden fuel tanker in the Southern Ocean, got some footage for their TV show, then went scurrying off to cash it in leaving the poor whales undefended. What a joke! If I had donated to Sea Shepherd, I would be furious and would demand to have my money refunded. Whatever I got back from them (after they’d taken their cut for those big Sea Shepherd executive salaries and ever increasing legal bills) I would then donate to a real conservation group that actually achieves something, like Greenpeace.

As for a military presence in the Southern Ocean, well, it’s interesting because ever since the US courts declared Sea Shepherd to be pirates acting illegal for private means, their vessels are now fair game to any military force under UNCLOS. They can be boarded, arrested and their property confiscated. Open season. 

But why the Sea Shepherd fairies would whinge and whine about the non-lethal defensive measures used by the Japanese mariners is beyond me. Do you know what they do to pirates off the coast of Somalia? They don’t use water cannons and stun grenades. No sir. They use live-fire artillery and high-explosive/fragmentation grenades – shoot to kill. None of this gentle molly coddling the Japanese dish out.

As for you though Paul, what now? With all your legal troubles (e.g. your arrest last year in Germany, skipping bail, no passport, multiple Interpol Red Notices etc etc), it seems you’re a burden to Sea Shepherd more than anything else. Perhaps you would be best put to use by surrendering yourself to authorities for extradition to Japan? You always say you’re ready to lay down your life for the whales and “arrest me or shut up”, so a stretch in a Japanese jail should be no big deal right. Think of the publicity you’d get. And the donations for Sea Shepherd Corporation. And no more piracy and violence for the Japanese fleet. Everyone wins, right? Maybe it’s for the best?

From one fake captain to another…

Hector Gonzalez
March 14, 2013 at 10:17

Since when did "we don't like what they're doing, let's start a war" constitute "detailed consideration of a topic"?

winston kirk
March 14, 2013 at 10:03

Ryohei Uchida: You wrote so much but my answer is plain and simple Japan has such a beautiful culture and your damaging it.Can you imagine how the young children growing up in Australia and the world view Japan and its people when they turn on tv sets world wide every year at this time around christmas and the new year whatching these images killing whales and dolphines the pictures young people see leave a lasting impresion. Japan is trying to improve its economy and get its exports to return and I also hear Japan wants to host the world games in 2020 if you want to win these things in the eyes of the world clean up your act and stop killing dolphines and whales with grenades.

Captain Paul Watson
March 14, 2013 at 09:52

A very well researched and timely article. Uchida is a paid mouthpiece for the Institute of Cetacean Research. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would welcome an Australian military or Customs presence in the Southern Ocean to at least monitor the situation and keep the pieace if they won't actually enforce the integirty of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. All the violence that has been taken place in the Southern Ocean comes from the Japanese whalers. Sea Shepherd throws foul smelling rotten butter bombs. The whalers throw concussion grenades. All of the rammings have been initated by the whalers including the total destruction of a Sea Shepherd vessel for which the whalers refused to be questioned about by investigating authorities. Sea Shepherd goes down to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary every year because it is a "sanctuary" established by international agreement ans as long as it is regarded in fact and in law as a whale sanctuary, Sea Shepherd will continue to defend and protect it as a sanctuary. 

David Donaldson
March 14, 2013 at 09:05

Interesting piece… Nice to see a detailed consideration of a topic that normally doesn't extend past pro- and anti-whaling mudslinging.

Ryohei Uchida
March 14, 2013 at 07:36

A remarkably ill-considered, self-contradictory and baseless piece of commentary. Some points to pick up on:

Thom Woodforde’s “legal basis” for opposing Japan’s cetacean research program is that Japan is somehow misusing Article VIII of the ICRW (which he has apparently decided to be a “loophole”), and he cites Tony Burke’s politicized musings as his evidence. He further claims that Japanese vessels have violated fuel restrictions in the Antarctic area without the slightly bit of evidence to support it. This all does not withstand even the slightest scrutiny. The question of the legality of Japan’s cetacean research program is currently before the ICJ, as Woodroofe points out. Yet both he and the environment minister appear to have beat the court to a decision on the matter, with the latter declaring it to be illegal and the former calling for enforcement of that “decision” by military force. This is as absurd as it is baseless.
Australia’s legal action in the ICJ is most likely to fail. At the time of its initiation, both the United States and New Zealand were critical of the decision to litigate, with the former also critical of Australia’s extreme and uncompromising stance on the issue of whaling. The Wikileaks documents referred to by Mr Woodroofe do not merely show Australian hesitance in initiating the action – they show that senior Australian officials privately accepted that the case was doomed to failure and that it was only ever an exercise in domestic political maneuvering.
Mr Woodroofe cheers loudly for the initiation of military action against Japan’s whaling program, demonstrating a profound detachment from geo-political and military reality. His claims that such action would somehow not be that of one nation against another but a mere action in upholding “international law” (which has yet to be decided by the ICJ) are of course delusional and absurd. That he would jeopardise the significant achievements of the Antarctic Treaty System – let alone human bloodshed – in the pursuit of his unquestioning anti-whaling agenda is worrying in the extreme.
Woodforde’s “concern” for the safety of Japanese mariners and their Sea Shepherd assailants is, in light of his calls for military action, laughable. But any bona fide concern for human safety and the upholding of international law would surely start with the prevention of Sea Shepherd’s violent attacks from Australian ports and Australian flagged vessels. These attacks have very recently been deemed to constitute acts of piracy by a senior court in the United States. Of course, the possibility of Australia easily preventing such illegal and dangerous conduct does not feature in Woodforde’s grand plan to “uphold international law”.
Lastly, and rather tellingly, Woodforde fails to provide a single shred by way of rational argument against a legal and sustainable harvest of the abundant species of whale. He assumes, rather arrogantly, that his prohibitionist agenda is undeniably correct and that  it ought to be imposed upon all and sunder even by means of military force. This epitomises the hollowness and arrogance of the anti-whaling position and those who espouse it.

Woodforde would do well to adopt a more rational and considered approach to both conservation and international relations.

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