Support for global anti-whaling campaign extends to Ireland

April 18th, 2008 - 9:04 am ICT by admin  

By Stephan Balling
Cork (Ireland), April 18 (DPA) An Englishman is on a mission in Ireland. Nic Slocum joined the ranks of those campaigning for the protection of whales six years ago, when he started his whale-watching tour business. Now the trained zoologist is benefiting from the fast-growing worldwide industry, with around 2,000 whale enthusiasts participating on his trips along Ireland’s West Cork coastline every year.

More than 10 million whale watchers are drawn to waters inhabited by the giant creatures worldwide yearly, according to estimates by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

But increasing quotas for whale hunting set by countries like Norway threatens to harm the industry, as fewer whales in the world’s oceans reduce the probability of sightings for those who set out on boats such as Slocum’s Voyager.

A Japanese whaling fleet has just returned from its annual hunt in Antarctic waters with 551 slain minke whales, just somewhat over half of its intended quota.

Initially, the fleet planned to kill around 1,000 whales, including 850 minke, 50 fin and 50 humpback whales. An international outcry caused Japan to abandon plans to catch humpbacks.

Their mission was disrupted in confrontations with protest ships intent on disrupting the expedition - a factor in the significantly lower number of whales taken, according to Japan’s Fisheries Agency.

“Whale watching is a sustainable way to go around with the animals, whereas whale hunting is not, as you can kill a whale only once, but watch it often,” Slocum said in an interview with DPA.

Slocum supports the latest Greenpeace campaign of pressure on Japanese economic giant Canon, the world’s number one producer of digital cameras, to take a stand against the controversial practice.

Greenpeace wants the Tokyo-based company to condemn whaling - the killing of whales with harpoons - which is regarded by activists and nature lovers a cruel and barbaric.

If Canon, as one of Japan’s largest companies were to do so, it could result in a political earthquake for the world’s biggest whaling nation. The Japanese government, despite coming under fire internationally, insists on its right to kill whales for scientific purposes.

Slocum, 56, wants to sensitise people from around the globe to the beauty of marine wildlife in order to boost worldwide resistance to whaling, he says.

“It is just inhumane how we deal with these animals in the 21st century,” he argues.

The Japanese whaling fleet set out last November with a quota that included species protected under a moratorium of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Humpback whales, a species popular with whale watchers for their acrobatic displays, are in grave danger of being exterminated, while fin whales are also listed as endangered.

Slocum says he cannot understand Japan’s approach and calls its argument that whaling is necessary for scientific research “completely senseless”.

It is a surprising hard word from a man who normally talks facts about marine wildlife and its protection, always considering the different perspectives of tourists, fishermen and environmental activists.

Ask about Slocum in any of the pubs in the town of Leap on Ireland’s south coast, where he lives with his wife and their three children, it is clear that Slocum is a respected figure because of his concern for marine life.

He knows much about his subject and has a reputation for being keen to introduce people to his passion, the sea.

He opened his whale-watching operation after 20 years as a hobby sailor and tries to offer his customers a combination of entertainment and education by taking them as close to the animals as he can, without disturbing nature.

Slocum shares the Irish and international anti-whaling community’s view, which broadly characterises Japan’s scientific research programme as exploiting a loophole to carry out commercial whaling.

“This hunt is being carried out in the name of science but I am not at all satisfied how such slaughter can be justified,” Irish Environment Minister John Gormley said in December when he urged Japan to call off its whale hunt in Antarctica.

Greenpeace wants to close the loophole with Canon’s support.

“It is okay to shoot whales, but only with a camera and not with a harpoon,” Greenpeace communications manager Brian Fitzgerald told DPA about the efforts to get Canon on the environmentalists’ side.

But the camera producer has refused to condemn whaling, ignoring, according to Greenpeace, the 150,000 emails it has received from supporters of the campaign since January.

Slocum says he is aware of the ties between industry and politics, which - in Japan especially - make it difficult for private companies to act against their government for fear of future economic sanctions.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace is confident that it will win its battle against Canon: “It is just a question of time,” Fitzgerald says proudly, mentioning the recent “victories” his organisation has achieved in other environmental issues against global brands like Apple and Coca Cola.

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