The Sea Shepherd are in Melbourne for a few weeks with two of their ships, the Bob Barker, and the Steve Irwin. With ship tours every weekend, what better way to have a perspective of life on the high seas battling whalers. I have to admit, before this week I didn’t know too much about The Sea Shepherd. Not that I’m an expert now, but I did a little reading during the week and at least have a working understanding the of the international framework they function under. Its all quite interesting really.
The fact I found most interesting was that the Sea Shepherd is actually UPHOLDING international law. I thought they were a bunch of hooligans acting to a law upon themselves, but no; they have an international mandate that enables (and even demands) that they take action. The whole legal argument is terribly convoluted filled with loopholes and contradictions so that basically both sides of the whaling debate can pick and choose what rules and laws they want to follow. However, it basically boils down to two arguments:
The United Nations World Charter for Nature provides guidelines for the international protection of nature. This charter was adopted by the United Nation’s General Assembly on November 9, 1982. The relevant sections of the charter are 21 to 24:
21. States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:
(a) Co-operate in the task of conserving nature through common activities and other relevant actions, including information exchange and consultations
(b) Establish standards for products and other manufacturing processes that may have adverse effects on nature, as well as agreed methodologies for assessing these effects
(c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment
(d) Ensure that activities within their jurisdictions or control do not cause damage to the natural systems located within other States or in the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction
(e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction
22. Taking fully into account the sovereignty of States over their natural resources, each State shall give effect to the provisions of the present Charter through its competent organs and in co-operation with other States.
23. All persons, in accordance with their national legislation, shall have the opportunity to participate, individually or with others, in the formulation of decisions of direct concern to their environment, and shall have access to means of redress when their environment has suffered damage or degradation.
24. Each person has a duty to act in accordance with the provisions of the present Charter, acting individually, in association with others or through participation in the political process, each person shall strive to ensure that the objectives and requirements of the present Charter are met.
Wow. That’s pretty impressive. It basically says that in the absence of any state law, it is your duty (as an individual or collective) to uphold conservation. In fact the UN Charter was upheld in 1995 when Captain Paul Watson cited the Charter as his authority to order Spanish and Cuban drag trawlers off the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Captain Watson had been arrested in this area, outside of the Canadian 200 mile limit, by Canadian authorities and was charged with felony mischief.
So, what’s the reasoning of the whaling nations? Well, they are all a little different, but since we mainly deal with Japanese whalers here in the Southern Ocean, lets look at their defence.
International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, December 2, 1946
1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention, any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take, and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. Each Contracting Government shall report at once to the Commission all such authorizations which it has granted. Each Contracting Government may at any time revoke any such special permit which it has granted.
2. Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.
3. Each Contracting Government shall transmit to such body as may be designated by the Commission, in so far as practicable, and at intervals of not more than one year, scientific information available to that Government with respect to whales and whaling, including the results of research conducted pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Article and to Article IV.
4. Recognizing that continuous collection and analysis of biological data in connection with the operations of factory ships and land stations are indispensable to sound and constructive management of the whale fisheries, the Contracting Governments will take all practicable measures to obtain such data.
What a ridiculous loophole! This antiquated law beggars belief. Therefore, the purpose of “scientific research” (as it was initially constructed for) is to allow for the supervision of the health of the whale pods in order to promote and maintain the health of the population. And here I was thinking that there actually was some sort of “research” taking place. Nope. The Japanese are killing whales to find out if there are enough whales to return to commercial whaling practice.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the international argument. There are various treaties, agreements, and policies that mostly justify the Sea Shepherd position. Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 is consistently being broken by killing whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. This law is criminal in nature and holds sentences of two years jail. So the legal wrangling will go on for some time to come with Japan recently losing an international decision to continue whaling (even for scientific purposes), but only today issuing a statement that they will not follow the ruling, and resume whaling in the 2015-2016 summer. Watch this space!