Every year in the peaceful island cluster of the Faeroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark, an event called the grindadráp takes place. The local fishermen herd a pod of pilot whales into harbour. Once there, they are driven into knee-deep water where men from the small Faeroese population kill them by cutting their spinal cords by hand. In 2006, they killed in excess of 800 whales.

Yet Greenpeace has never seriously campaigned against the whaling practices of the Faeroese. And it has never campaigned heavily against whaling nations Norway, Iceland or Russia. Greenpeace doesn’t send the Esperanza in pursuit of European vessels when other whale activists do. Instead, it concentrates its efforts away from Europe. Why?

It’s not because these European nations have a significantly smaller catch than the Japanese. Alongside the Faeroese, the Norwegians take roughly 600 whales per year, making a total of close to 1,400 whales compare to Japan’s average of roughly 750 since 2000.

No, the bias in Greenpeace’s Asia-centric whaling campaign is about headlines and fundraising rather than the whales themselves.

Anti-whaling is a cause celebre in Australia – particularly against the Japanese. Chasing a whaling ship out of neighbouring waters makes for good copy in a slow news period and contributes significantly to Greenpeace’s membership coffers. Yet if the same actions took place in Norway and Denmark there would be a considerable backlash that would erode Greenpeace’s supporter base.

As Sea Shepherd Captain and Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson has stated, “when it comes to whaling, some nations are more tolerated than others by Greenpeace.” For example, in 2005, during the northern hemisphere whaling season, the Esperanza was in Norway. According to Sea Shepherd Paul Watson, the ship was devoting its time to collecting water samples. But at the same time, Greenpeace was running an anti-whaling campaign in South Korea, where an International Whaling Commission was about to be held.

Campaigns by Greenpeace against companies like Apple and Shell have singled them out not because they were the worst offenders, but because they are the easiest targets for grabbing headlines in an increasingly crowded and sensitive environmental donations market. This was highlighted in 2006 when a draft press release from the Greenpeace USA office was accidentally sent to the media featuring the text “FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE.”

This raises an ethical concern. In their campaigns and lobbying activity, Greenpeace constantly call on governments and the public to take an objective and scientific view in debates on issues like climate change, forestry in developing countries and nuclear power and set out priorities accordingly. The question is, does Greenpeace do the same, or are they simply staging a fundraiser?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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