Shepherds of the Sea

seashepherdThere are many ways to change tradition. In today’s democratic environment, the most commonly accepted form of change is the one that follows due process and results in a vote of the masses. But this system has its flaws, being weighed down by bureaucracy and international doctrine that can halt or slow necessary measures, and sometimes it is considered necessary for the good of the whole to take unorthodox measures to extinguish troublesome habits. But how far should you go?

Whale hunting has been a traditional faucet of Japanese culture for centuries. At its start, there was a grim sense of necessity over this, as the whales could produce everything from food that keeps you alive to the lamp oil that keeps you warm and provides light. A single catch could bring much to a people working with pre-industry tools and technology. And given the comparatively small demand in pre-industry Japan, there was low risk of over hunting. The act was justified.

More than 800 years later, things are changing in the water. Human populations have boomed along with technology, running off of seemingly limitless energy that flows with little effort on the behalf of the user. Nowadays, whales can be captured as fast as they can be found, evolutionarily unable to contend with modern harpoons or the combustion driven whaling ship. The wild population was hit hard by the industrialized age, repeatedly bombarded by new technology. If the species was to survive, preventative action had to be made by mankind.

On Dec. 2, 1946, it was decided by an international coalition of political leaders that the best course of action would be to sign the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. With strong capitalist undertones, the convention made whaling illegal, so as to, “provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”. The exception to this is as is necessary for the nourishment of aboriginal people and for research, in which case whaling was still a legal sport. Free Willy crowds went wild, for finally immediate steps were being taken to conserve this intelligent, social creature. But they weren’t yet out of the riptide.

Countless nations protested what seemed like a restriction to the free market, inciting that the convention breached tradition and national culture. Some countries, such as Norway and Iceland, have fervently rejected the new regulations, deriving independent quotas. And still more countries, most prevalently Japan, have begun whaling under the full premise of research via the Institute of Cetacean Research. Claims have been made that the whales have been put to good and legal use, but it is well known and even accepted that the majority of research being made has been how good it tastes in a restaurant. Despite protest, Japan is legally in its bounds, and it seemed that the international community was going to let it slide. But someone, somewhere, was beginning the cry of war.

As a rogue reaction to what is seen as despicable and inhumane practices, a group of enviro-pirates calling themselves the ‘Sea Shepherds’ has taken action. Their rebuttal: non-lethal forms of assault, equipped with blinding high-powered lasers, stink bombs and aggressive words of peace, claiming that reform is coming far too slowly for the whales to have a chance of survival, and that the quasi-legal actions of Japan must be forced to stop.

Reactions have been mixed. The United States has officially declared this group as terrorists. Japan has taken aggressive action, reportedly ramming the Sea Shepherd ships and using water cannons on the crewmembers. Many groups have applauded the pirate attacks, declaring the Sea Shepherd as pioneers of political reform. The group says, though appreciated, it needs no political support to continue, and promises that it is only encouraged by the resistance.