Activists Aim to Block Japan's 'Scientific' Whale Hunt A Japanese whaling fleet is set to sail to Antarctica this week, pursuing over a thousand whales — some of them humpbacks. The government of Japan says the hunt is intended for scientific research. But Greenpeace and other critics contend that Japan's intentions are commercial.
NPR logo

Activists Aim to Block Japan's 'Scientific' Whale Hunt

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16435517/16435493" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Activists Aim to Block Japan's 'Scientific' Whale Hunt

Activists Aim to Block Japan's 'Scientific' Whale Hunt

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16435517/16435493" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

A whaling fleet set off from Japan this weekend with a brass band playing and families waving flags showing smiling whales. At sea, though, the reception will be far different. The environmentalist group Greenpeace hopes to intercept the whalers and stop the hunt by putting themselves between the harpoons and the whales. The Japanese whalers have said they will kill over 1,000 whales including up to 50 humpbacks, which have been protected from whaling since 1963.

Karli Thomas is an ocean's campaigner with Greenpeace. She's leading the expedition to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to try to stop the hunt.

And Miss Thomas, we've reached you on a Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza. Where are you exactly?

Ms. KARLI THOMAS (Expedition Leader, Greenpeace International): At the moment we're southeast of Japan. You mentioned that they left from Japan amid sort of a public ceremony. But once they reach the international waters, they did so under the cover of darkness and with the Automatic Identification System switched off.

BLOCK: I think they've said that they haven't actually turned off that identification system.

Ms. THOMAS: Well, we were certainly monitoring this and they went on it, so we suspect that they have.

BLOCK: If that system is turned off, how will you find the Japanese ships?

Ms. THOMAS: Oh, we have a lot of tricks up our sleeves and we intend to keep those to ourselves. But basically, at the moment, the direction they're taking is obviously south. They're going from the northern hemisphere of Japan right down to Antarctica's (unintelligible), which is pretty much right across the planet.

BLOCK: And when you find those Japanese whaling vessels, what do you do?

Ms. THOMAS: Well, we're determined to do everything that we can within the bounds of peaceful process, putting our activists between the harpoon and the whales to stop them from taking the shots and to stop them from killing individual whales.

BLOCK: The head of the mission in Japan called Greenpeace violent environmental terrorists. Where do you draw the line on what you will do and won't do out at sea?

Ms. THOMAS: We're very clear on that and I think that the Japanese government knows perfectly well that we're not a violent organization.

BLOCK: Now, the Japanese say that this hunt is allowable because it's a scientific research mission. They say they're trying to figure out the ages and mortality of whales so that they can model populations. Do you buy that at all?

Ms. THOMAS: Absolutely not. I mean, any credible scientist knows that you don't need to kill the whale to study it. And certainly one thing that they have found is that when you shoot a (unintelligible) harpoon into a whale, you kill it. And that's about only result that they can claim. It's all just a sham basically.

BLOCK: So what do you think they're trying to do?

Ms. THOMAS: Well, it's quite clear and they've actually made their intentions known that they're trying to restart commercial whaling.

BLOCK: The humpback whales, at one point, were on the brink of extinction by some calculations, they've now rebounded to about 30,000 or 40,000. Do you think there will be a way for a harvest to go forward of, say, 50 humpback whales as that the Japanese want to do and how that'd be okay?

Ms. THOMAS: Well, there's never been an example of a sustainable commercial whaling industry. So we believe that you simply can't hunt whales sustainably. They are not fish. They have a much slower breeding rate. They are mammals. It simply can't sustain commercial whale hunting and that's exactly what Japan is doing, more than one thousand whales and especially humpback whales.

BLOCK: Miss Thomas, how long is Greenpeace prepared to stay out there?

Ms. THOMAS: How long we can stay out of sea depends on ways on our fuel capacity, our speed and so on. And essentially when we're engaged with the fleet, they dictate those things, so we'll be tracking them. We'll be taking actions. We'll be following them and that would determine how long we can stay with them.

BLOCK: Karli Thomas, thanks very much for talking with us.

Ms. THOMAS: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Karli Thomas of the environmentalist group Greenpeace talking with us from the vessel Esperanza now southeast of Japan. Her group is trying to intercept a Japanese whaling fleet heading to the waters near Antarctica.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.