With former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell on the Advisory Board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the present Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett has called on another former Federal Environment Minister Barry Cohen (1983 to 1987) to attack the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and myself.

Yesterday Barry Cohen wrote “Bullying won’t stop Japanese whalers” The Australian:

If you had told me a few weeks ago that I would represent Australia at the Pew Whales Symposium in Portugal, I would have recommended the resumption of medication.

I accepted the invitation from Peter Garrett because I was interested in seeing what progress had been made in bringing whaling to a halt since I held the environment portfolio 22 years ago.

Absolutely no progress has been made in halting or even slowly down illegal whaling activities since 1986, the year the global moratorium on whaling was initiated. Mr Cohen did not need to go to Portugal to find this out. The quota in 1986 was set at zero, yet as thousands of whales have been slaughtered over the last 22 years, the numbers have steadily increased during the whaling moratorium instead of decreasing.

I have fond memories of the anti-whaling organisation Project Jonah, as it was the only environment group that had a good word to say about me during my 1983-87 stint. Greens are a hard mob to satisfy.

Project Jonah was co-founded by Farley Mowat, the present international chair of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Mr Mowat has consistently been involved with defending whales whereas Mr Cohen has only recently re-discovered his interest because Peter Garrett offered him a job.

As for Greens being a hard lot to satisfy all I can say is give us clean air, clean water, no poisons in our food, and stop slaughtering endangered species and clear-cutting our forests and we will be satisfied indeed. We are however not satisfied with political rhetoric and posturing.

During my reign as tsar of all the oceans, Australia was a leading force in getting the International Whaling Commission to ban commercial whaling. Unfortunately, scientific research on whales was not banned, enabling the Japanese to take up to 1000 whales a year to discover what the whales ate. And, to everyone’s surprise, the whale products were sold for human consumption.

I was not aware that Mr Cohen was tsar of all the oceans. If so he was a very feeble tsar because for the last 22 years, the whales have been illegally slaughtered.

Australia indeed was a leading voice in bringing about the moratorium as were many non-governmental organizations, but what is the point of banning commercial whaling if commercial whaling continues to flourish by Iceland, Norway and Japan?

Mr Cohen, no one was surprised. We all knew that scientific whaling was just a front for commercial whaling. How is “scientific” whaling even justified in an established whale sanctuary? How does “scientific” whaling justify the slaughter of endangered Fin and Humpback whales? How many more whales must Japan kill to discover what we all know they already eat?

The purpose of this scientific research has never been fully explained. As a result, during the intervening 22 years, while there has been significant recovery in stocks of some species of whale, the position of the pro and anti-whaling forces hasn’t changed.

The purpose of the “scientific research” does not need to be explained because there never has been any validity to it. It has always been a commercial activity. I am happy Mr Cohen agrees with us that the slaughter of the whales by the Japanese whaling fleet is illegal.

The only other constant has been the meetings of whaling bodies who feed their views into the IWC. Politicians past and present, bureaucrats, lawyers, scientists and activists attend endless conferences that move forward glacially.

Mr Cohen is absolutely right on this point.

The Lisbon gathering prepared material to present to the IWC annual meeting in Madeira in June. Learned scientific and legal papers were presented to commissioners who mostly lacked the background to evaluate them. I’ve never seen so many glazed eyes in one room in my life – mine included.

What surprised me was that no one tackled the fundamental question: to whale or not to whale. Many seemed happy to dance around the issue and maintain the status quo.

This is of course due to a decision put forward by IWC Chair William Hogarth and agreed to by Australian Environment Minster Peter Garrett to not ruffle any feathers at the IWC meeting in Santiago, Chile in June 2008. Former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell was far more forceful in getting Japan to respond with attempts to defend their illegal whaling activities.

As the conference drew to a close I decided some plain talking was needed.

There were, I said, two irreconcilable positions. The pro-whaling countries — Japan, Norway and Iceland — believe that whales are a sustainable resource that can be utilised in the same way as any other animal. The anti-whalers, mainly affluent Western societies, have elevated whales to a status only marginally behind humans: an intelligent animal entitled to permanent protection. And that is attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. We are talking different languages.

The anti whaling nations include Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, South Africa and many other nations that are not affluent or Western, so this is not an accurate assessment. The whale has not been “elevated” as an intelligent animal “only marginally behind humans.” The whale IS an intelligent, highly sociable, sentient being, self aware with communication skills far surpassing human beings. The whale is entitled to permanent protection. To argue otherwise is to condone murder. Additionally no slaughterhouse on the planet would be tolerated if they killed any animal in the manner that whales are slaughtered. Last month we timed and filmed a Minke whale thrashing in agony in its own blood for 25 minutes. A video like that taken in an abattoir would close the place down.

As for talking different languages, the fact remains that commercial whaling is illegal. Killing endangered whales is illegal and killing whales in an established whale sanctuary is illegal. This is like saying we should be more understanding of bank robbers because they speak a different language and have a different perspective on life and morality. The bottom line is the law is the law and the Japanese whaling fleet is in violation of numerous treaties, resolutions, laws and agreements.

I felt a certain sympathy for the Japanese even though I disagreed totally with their position. It’s not so long ago that the Japanese view of whaling was held universally.

How can any person who professes to respect the law feel sympathy for a criminal operation? Again, should we feel sorry for a bank robber or a rapist although we disagree with their crimes? Yes, whaling was a sin practiced by many nations for centuries. Australia ended whaling in 1978. However, this is the 21st Century and we live in an era of greater environmental awareness and thus to kill whales today is both willfully ignorant and arrogant,

The Japanese see anti-whalers as irrational, emotional and hypocritical. They point out that we are happy to slaughter billions of animals — including, until recently, whales — when it suits our needs and tastes, while denying the same rights to them.

I’m sure the mafia view police as irrational, emotional and hypocritical but that does not make their crime legitimate. Most Japanese have little interest in whaling. Those Japanese who do support whaling are accomplices in a criminal operation. It is not irrational, emotional or hypocritical to oppose a criminal operation. When Australia killed whales, they did so legally whereas Japan is doing so illegally. That is a big difference.

As for the slaughter of other animals I have two points. One, no domestic animal is slaughtered as brutally and in such abject agony as the whale. Secondly, none of my crew or I eat animals and in a truly civilised world humans should be vegetarians. Now Cohen may call that fanatical, but I prefer being called a fanatic over being called a hypocrite.

We also ignore their cultural customs and history when it suits us.

This is not about culture or history. It is about enforcing international conservation law.

I hate to admit it, but they are right. I said, however, that no matter how irrational, emotional and hypocritical, we were we were not going to change. That has, for a long time, been the view of successive Australian governments, including the present one. That being the case, what was the point of continuous meetings to make such little progress?

I dispute this most vigorously. Mr Cohen is wrong. International law can be and must be enforced. Australia could enforce the law against Japan by taking Japan to court as Environment Minister Peter Garrett promised to do before he was elected. Sanctions could be invoked. Australia could shut down whaling tomorrow by denying Japan wood chips, uranium or iron ore. The truth is that the present Australian government does not want to back up an anti-whaling position with any muscle at all. The Australian government is instead giving lip service to the issue to appease the Australian people and allowing Japan to do whatever Japan wishes to do with the whales. After 22 years of “diplomacy”, Australia has not convinced Japan to lower their quotas.

I concluded by saying that while the anti-whalers’ views left a lot to be desired, the whaling nations’ case was even weaker. All the evidence suggests that as an economic activity whaling is a disaster. In Japan it is kept alive only with considerable government support.

I certainly agree with Mr Cohen on this point.

Also, it is not essential for the survival of the Japanese: they are not short of tucker. Whale meat is, at best, a delicacy enjoyed by the elite, who were not even eating all the whale meat made available from “scientific research”. Instead it was being stockpiled due to lack of demand. However irrational we might be, the Japanese position seemed very odd indeed.

Why then is Japan whaling in the face of such concerted opposition? There is only one possible reason. Japan will not be bullied into abandoning whaling. And who can blame the Japanese? It became obvious that they were none too pleased with Kevin Rudd’s threat, before the 2007 election, to take them to the International Court of Justice. And the appalling behaviour on the high seas by Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd has simply made the Japanese more determined to continue.

So according to Mr. Cohen, Japan is continuing to kill whales because of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. According to Mr Cohen, attempting to defend whales is “appalling behaviour”.

My crew and I have not injured a single whaler nor have we been charged with any crime, yet the Japanese fill the seas with literally tons of blood and he considers our actions in trying to stop this illegal atrocity appalling. We toss rotten butter on their decks and block their operations and they throw concussion grenades, chunks of metal, golf balls and hit us with water cannons, acoustical weapons and shoot at us — Mr Cohen finds their actions understandable and our actions “appalling”.

Mr Cohen should come down to the remote and hostile waters off Antarctica to see for himself the atrocities we have to confront. It’s easy to dismiss us from the comfort of his armchair and it is easy for him to spout off about things he knows absolutely nothing about, but the reality is that he has no idea of the obstacles we must face in our defence of the whales.

The Pew conference did advance the protection of whales a little. There was near unanimous agreement regarding the cessation of whaling in the southern oceans. Should that be accepted in Madeira, it would effectively be the end of whaling, with only a small number taken by indigenous peoples in the North Atlantic. Only one of the commissioners demurred. No prize for guessing his nationality.

The Sea Shepherd campaigns, on the other hand, have advanced the protection of whales a great deal. Over a thousand whales are swimming free because we intervened. In my book, that’s called saving whales. There is already an established whale sanctuary in the Southern Oceans and it has not ended whaling. Mr. Cohen does not seem to understand the situation. Whale sanctuaries do not translate into protection when whales continue to be slaughtered in sanctuaries. Every whale the Japanese kill in the Southern Ocean is inside the boundaries of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or inside the boundaries of the Australia Whale Sanctuary.

There is only one way to resolve the problem. If the Japanese, without admitting they were wrong, were to announce that they were ceasing whaling, it would be seen as an act of generosity and one of the most courageous environmental decisions of all time. They should do it not because we have bullied them into it, but because they want to do it. I concluded: “Pander to our emotions.”

The Japanese whaling industry is a Yakusa controlled operation riddled with corruption and scandal. They will not pander to anyone’s emotions unless they can make money out of it. What the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is doing is speaking the language they understand and that is profit and loss. We have been negating their profits year after year — that is the key to shutting them down. They are already some $50 million in debt and that debt is rising because of our interventions. Mr Cohn and Mr Garrett refuse to see the truth in this strategy.

Why are the Japanese so angry with us and why are they becoming increasingly more violent towards us? The answer is that we are hurting them where they feel it the most, in their bank accounts.

Our actions may be “appalling” to Mr Cohen, but the reality is that our strategy is working. The Japanese whaling fleet is on the ropes economically and we intend to knock them out of the ring. Mr. Cohen on the other hand wants to wipe the sweat from their brow, give them a drink, revive them and send them back into the ring with us “bullies” to continue the fight.

The whales need the whalers to throw in the towel and giving aid and comfort to the whale killers is not good conservation — it is appeasement.