CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Sea Shepherd crew was accused of causing fires on the Nisshin Maru. At the time of the fire, New Zealand authorities cleared anti-whaling protesters of any wrongdoing, noting that they were two days sail away. Outside regrets the error.
This Monday, March 31, a ruling at The Hague on Japan’s whaling activity in the Antarctic Ocean might mark the end of an era. Although Japan has subsidized a robust whaling program since 1987—under the auspices of a research project, meant to discover whether commercial whaling is environmentally sustainable—critics outside of Japan have contended that the research project is a mere cover for allowing commercial whaling to continue, and for years, the project was condemned by environmental groups including Greenpeace, and by more radical groups such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).
Sea Shepherd has attracted international attention for direct actions against Japanese whaling ships, including disabling whaling vessels at harbor, destruction of drift nets at sea, and nailing shut scuppers through which whale blood was released into the ocean.
A 2007 New Yorker profile of Paul Watson, a founder of the SSCS, included a long list of national governments that denounce their activities at sea, in spite of widespread opposition to whaling in places like Australia. Preferring to voice their opposition by more conventional means, in 2010 Australia brought a suit against Japan at the International Court of Justice, arguing that the project violated a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission. Should the court decide against Japan, it will more than likely mean an end to their ostensible research in the Antarctic Ocean.
The decision will come at an already strained moment for Japan’s whale market. The subsidy program supporting whaling research is in deep debt, and the Nisshin Maru, itself, is in dire need of repairs. To top this all off, the demand for whale meat in Japan is in noticeable decline, according to a report in the Associated Press. Apart from a few beach towns that practice small-scale whaling on their own, consumption is limited to school lunches, specialty restaurants, and the odd mariachi band.