Technically, it is illegal under the Commission’s 1996 resolution to issue special permits of any kind for whaling in sanctuaries. “Because we placed a reservation on the decision of the sanctuary, we do not abide by the ruling,” ICR’s Tokyo-based Far Seas Fisheries Division deputy director Hideki Moronuki told MotherJones.com by phone. (Any of the 66 IWC-member countries are allowed to reject a decision it feels will seriously affect its national interest.)
ICR fleets have been killing about 400 whales a year in the Southern Ocean sanctuary. That changed this year, when they more than doubled their quota for minke whales. “It’s perfectly legal,” Moronuki said. Even to kill endangered fins, he said, which have recovered to somewhere between 25,000 and 45,000. But killing endangered species is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
When I spoke with Rattenbury via satellite phone aboard the Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise he was cruising in a calm, iceberg-filled sea along the Antarctic coast. He and his crew were headed back to Cape Town, South Africa, where they'd set out months before. “We came to document what was going on,” he said, “to share with the world that whaling is still happening, and to save as many whales as possible. I think we all go home with a mixed sense of what it’s been like.”
The Arctic Sunrise and another Greenpeace vessel, the newer, faster Esperanza, were equipped with a helicopter and 8 inflatable Zodiac boats, which activists from 21 nations, including Canada, America, Japan and the Netherlands, routinely launched to put themselves between the harpooners and the whales. But by mid-January one crew member said he believed the whalers had caught 242 minke whales. “It’s very tiring,” Rattenbury said. “When you’re out there for a few hours, and then the harpoon shot is taken, and you hear the grenade explode and the whale starts to thrash in the water, it’s the most empty feeling I think I’ve ever had.” He didn’t know how many whales got away. If it was only 50, he guessed, then they were successful.
Rattenburry has been on other Greenpeace expeditions, including a voyage to Indonesia to stop shipments of illegal timber. But the protest and intervention against the Japanese whalers has been his most intense. On the morning of Jan. 8, when the whaler’s factory and supply ships, the Nisshin Maru and Oriental Seabird, were anchored next to each other transferring whale meat, activists pulled up along side the Maru in their inflatable boats. With rollers on long poles and white paint the activists wrote WHALE MEAT FROM SANCTUARY on the factory ship’s hull. Later that afternoon, perhaps out of frustration, the Maru rammed the Arctic Sunrise, breaking a sizeable chunk off its bow. Both sides have video of the incident, but because the ships from both viewpoints appear to be moving, it’s hard to tell who’s at fault.