By Jay Alabaster
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese and American officials discussed taking action against a prominent anti-whaling group, with Tokyo insisting that Sea Shepherd’s confrontations on the high seas actually hurt efforts to reduce whaling, U.S. diplomatic cables show.
The U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission, Monica Medina, discussed revoking the U.S.-based conservation group’s tax exempt status during a meeting with senior officials from the Fisheries Agency of Japan in November 2009, according to the documents released by WikiLeaks.
Action against the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would be a “major element” in achieving success at international negotiations on the number of whales killed each year, the cables cite the director general of Japan’s fisheries agency, Katsuhiro Machida, as saying.
Referring to Sea Shepherd, Medina said, “She believes the USG (U.S. government) can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions,” according to the cables.
Sea Shepherd vessels are currently chasing Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean in the hopes of interrupting its hunt, which kills up to 1,000 whales a year.
Sea Shepherd’s yearly protest campaigns have drawn high-profile donors and volunteers, and spawned the popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.”
Japan hunts whales under the research exemption to a 1986 worldwide ban on commercial hunts. Critics say there is no reason to kill the animals, and the research program amounts to commercial whaling in disguise because surplus meat from the hunt is sold domestically.
Protest ships harass the whaling fleet, and clashes between the sides often take place. Last January, a Sea Shepherd boat was sunk after its bow was sheared off in a collision with a whaling vessel.
The diplomatic cables, posted on WikiLeaks’ secret-sharing website early Monday, but dated Jan. 1, show Japanese officials repeatedly told U.S. counterparts the group’s actions were making whaling a political issue and hurting any chance of a compromise on the numbers of whales killed each year.
An International Whaling Commission meeting last year — that ended without agreement — was seen as a major chance to end a decades long stalemate. The United States approached Japan in late 2009 to reach a deal on the issue, calling it an “irritant” in international relations.
“Action on the SSCS (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) would be a major element for Japan in the success of the overall negotiations,” a Japanese official said, according to one cable.
Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, said his group was against anything less than a complete stop to Japan’s whaling program in Antarctica. The activists hope to block whaling activities for the Japanese fleet, so it incurs deep financial losses.
“I don’t think a solution is going to come through politics, it’s going to come through economics,” Watson told The Associated Press by telephone from his ship while pursuing the Japanese fleet. ♦