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Byron Shire
May 6, 2021

Sea Shepherd releases Australian Government whaling footage

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The Australian Government's whaling footage, taken in 2008, released by Sea Shepherd after an FOI battle. Photo Sea Shepherd
The Australian Government’s whaling footage, taken in 2008, released by Sea Shepherd after an FOI battle. Photo Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd has released unseen footage of Japanese whaling in Australian Antarctic waters filmed by the Australian Government in 2008 but suppressed until now.

Jeff Hansen, MD of Sea Shepherd Australia said Sea Shepherd had been a part of a  joint effort fighting the Australian Government to release the rare whaling footage obtained on a 2008  Australian Customs mission to the Antarctic.

‘Through the Freedom of Information (FOI) process we worked with the Environmental Defenders Office NSW and Humane Society International Australia to make sure the public could finally see what this taxpayer funded operation filmed,’ Mr Hansen said.

‘The Australian Government has suppressed this footage for years. The main reason given was that the images of this horrific slaughter would harm diplomatic relationships with Japan. The Australian Government has chosen to side with the poachers instead of defending the whales of the Southern Ocean,’ said Mr Hansen.

‘This footage shows the bloody brutality, cruelty and senseless killing of such beautiful, intelligent and majestic animals. These whales are hunted down, before being hit with an explosive harpoon that sends shrapnel through their bodies, while prongs come out so that the whale cannot escape. The whale dives to try and get back to the depths below, to its family, but it can’t as the whale killers retract the cable, slowly bringing the whale to the surface, thrashing about in pain before he/she gets to eyeball their killer, before being shot until finally dying, many minutes later in a sea of blood,’ said Mr Hansen.

‘Sea Shepherd has been relentless in our opposition of the Japanese whaling fleet, filling a void in doing the job that the majority of Australian’s want to see done. Now is the time for the Australian Government to live up to its pre-election promises and send a vessel to oppose whaling by Japan. With the whaling fleet now in the killing grounds, the question must be asked, does the Australian Government represent the wishes of the people of Australian or Japan?

Sea Shepherd is asking the Australian Government to do all it can to end whaling, by not only sending a ship to the Antarctic but to also take Japan to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, where Japan can be challenged over its activities as Japan is not meeting its international obligations to sustainably protect whales. The tribunal has a system of mandatory dispute settlement, one that’s very difficult to opt out of and there is very little Japan could do about it,’ Mr Hansen said.

FOI timeline

In 2015, EDO NSW received instructions from Sea Shepherd Australia to help them obtain information from the Commonwealth Government relating to illegal whaling practices by Japanese vessels in the Southern Ocean.

The resulting application for government information was refused by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, requiring EDO NSW to press our client’s case with the Commonwealth Information Commissioner.

In May 2017, the Information Commissioner ordered the release of the documents sought by EDO NSW’s client. Without the work of the EDO, it is likely this footage would never have been uncovered. EDO NSW’s legal expertise allowed Sea Shepherd to negotiate the complex and often frustrating processes which attend the making of applications for government information.

EDO NSW CEO David Morris said, ‘Despite government attempts to refuse our client access to this footage, EDO NSW successfully prosecuted the case for access, allowing Sea Shepherd to obtain this horrific footage taken by officers on board the Department of Immigration and Border Protection patrol vessel Oceanic Viking, which shows Japanese whalers operating in the Southern Ocean.’

Whaling is a controversial issue both in Australia and Internationally. In 2010, the Australian Government brought proceedings in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) challenging the lawfulness of Japan’s scientific whaling program. In 2015, the ICJ ruled that Japan’s scientific whaling program was illegal and in breach of international law. Transparency about what the Australian Government knows and what it is doing to prevent further unlawful whaling in Australian waters is a matter of clear public interest.

David Morris noted, ‘This is footage Australians have the right to see, but initially the government didn’t see it that way and an appeal to the Information Commissioner was required. Public access to government information is a critically important part of our democratic society. These types of cases emphasise the importance of organisations like EDO NSW which have the expertise to assist individuals and community groups to challenge the barriers often put up to prevent access to government information.’

The full video can be seen here.

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