I don't like what some Japanese companies, supported by their government, are doing to whales, but I'm smart enough to know that a reasonable alternative to Sea Shepherd's nasty headline above might be: "Furuno won't give (or sell) Sea Shepherd a new radar because its government asked it not to." Or: "Furuno won't support protesters who ram Japanese ships." Or maybe: "Furuno wants nothing to do with an arrogant jerk like Captain Paul Watson!"...At some point last winter -- absent my spouse, who wouldn't have tolerated it -- I watched a whole season or more of Whale Wars in a few nights, and was probably yelling at the TV by the end. I developed a deep dislike for Paul Watson, founder and unapologetic potentate of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society, particularly the way he treats the endless stream of bright-eyed, well-meaning volunteers who cycle rapidly through his vessels. One thing for sure: If you cross Watson in any way, then by definition you support, probably even enjoy, the slaughter of whales. Watson's enemy list, incidentally, includes Greenpeace and many other more law abiding conservation organizations.
So I don't think the Australian who wrote me yesterday, or anyone else, should cross Furuno off their nautical shopping list just because of Sea Shepherd's accusation, no matter how much it rattles around the blogosphere. But here's the weird thing: As obnoxious as Watson is, I do think he has a point. As I understand it, Japanese whalers are violating the consensus of nations as expressed by the ongoing International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, killing many whales under the guise of research when the actual goal is to sell the meat. It also makes sense to me for this planet of carnivores to give whales a pass, as I believe they are special.
And I have some real experience with whales, having spent large chunks of 1980 and '81 on a vessel researching humpbacks off the Dominican Republic. The remarkable intelligence and gentleness of these animals is not something imagined by do-gooders; it's a fact. In the mid 90's I also happened on the scene below, a humpback being butchered on Petit Nevis, with half the residents of Bequia (in the background) joyously attending. And though I knew that everywhere else in the North Atlantic these poor whales just get ogled at by humans, I got into what I thought was a legitimate indigenous fishery (exempt from the moratorium) carried out in an open boat powered only by sail and oars. I even enjoyed some meat cooked over an open fire.
In fact, a year or so later when Save the Whales asked to use my photographs for a presentation to the IWC, I was at first reluctant. But then I learned that they helped to prove that the Bequians had indeed harpooned a baby first, and then the mother who came to its rescue. That's illegal even for the indigenous fishery, and pretty gross, as a baby humpback is as innocently curious as human child. I also learned that Japan gives more foreign aid than any other country to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which in turn always votes with Japan at the IWC, like several other small but well aided Caribbean nations. The oddly large fishing facility next to the airport in Bequia also came to make sense after my schooling. If and when the IWC lets the fishermen below export their catch, maybe even take more humpbacks using modern equipment, the parties on Petit Nevis will end and instead the whales will be hauled up the big ramp, butchered quickly, and iced for air travel half way around the world.
Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd have a point, but they push it in a way that just seems to inflame the conflict between those countries that want to continue whaling and those that don't. What could break the current impasse in the right direction, I think, is if more citizens of the pro-whaling nations could ignore the war a bit and really look at the issue. It's not black and white, as you can read here, and here. Altogether, then, I strongly defend the right of Furuno Inc. management to show respect for their government, and hope they can ignore the howling of Paul Watson, but I also hope they will exercise their individual rights to study the state of whales and whaling and come to their own conclusions.