Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?

Sea Shepherd claims that their actions in the Southern Ocean opposing Japanese whaling fleets has effectively reduced the number of whales killed. What always rubbed me the wrong way about these claims is that they always compare their success against the Institute for Cetacean Research (the Japanese organization that oversees ‘scientific whaling’) Quotas. So at some point you have to ask the question, in absolute numbers, has Sea Shepherd really reduced the number of whales killed?

To answer that we need three pieces of information:

  1. When did Sea Shepherd begin it’s campaign against Japanese ‘scientific whaling’?
  2. What are the ICR quotas for that time frame?
  3. What are the absolute catches for that time frame?

Sea Shepherd provides a comprehensive timeline for their whaling campaigns that indicates serious opposition in the Southern Ocean began in December 2002. For the two other questions, we turn to Whale and Dolphin Conservation International, who have produced a truly exceptional interactive graph of the history of whaling since the inception of the International Whaling Convention by the numbers. The relevant figure is reproduced below:

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Sea Shepherd and Whale Wars

We have been and continue to be critical of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Although their goals are admirable their methods are not only ineffective, but in some cases impair the achievement of those goals.  With the premier of Whale Wars season 3 tomorrow evening, we’d like to take a moment to highlight the issues we’ve raised concerning the SSCS. Over the last two years we’ve written a number of post summarizing our problems with Sea Shepherd:

Our friends at Deep Sea News and Underwater Thrills have been critical of SSCS, too:

The above links cover many of the issues we have with this organization. The New York Times recently published an excellent breakdown of the Japanese Whaling Industry. Below are our main criticisms of SSCS:

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Sea Shepherd: Friend or foe of shark conservation?

croppedAs promised, this week’s ethical debate deals with one of the most hotly debated issues in the marine conservation community- the tactics of “Sea Shepherd”.

Though “Sea Shepherd” is most famous (or infamous) for their work with the Japanese whaling fleet, which is featured in “Whale Wars”, they are also heavily involved with the shark finning industry.

Before we get started, I want to say something about the tone of this debate. I know from our own comments sections, even ones that don’t deal directly with Sea Shepherd, that there are strong opinions on both sides of this issue. See last week’s Deep Sea News, particularly the comments section, for an example of this.  Here at Southern Fried Science, we recently came up with a new comments policy, which we will be enforcing strictly with this post. DO NOT personally attack anyone, DO NOT try to change the subject to something totally irrelevant, and DO NOT post under multiple names to create the false appearance of a majority (“sock puppetry”). Since the Deep Sea News post covered whale stuff pretty solidly, we will only be talking about shark finning here. WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT WHALING IN THIS POST.

Ok, now on to the debate.

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What a good conservation organization looks like

You know, we have a history on this blog of criticizing Sea Shepherd. We frequently criticize their methods, motivations, and effectiveness (we also went out of our way to add opposing views when we raised such a contentious issue). For a select group of readers, criticizing one conservation organization is tantamount to criticizing them all. If we say Sea Shepherd has been ineffective in protecting sharks, inevitably someone will assume that we’re in favor of shark finning. I don’t understand that leap of logic, but I’ve seen it come up so often that I know to expect it, probably even on this post. I can also expect someone to say “At least they’re doing something!” That is, of course, completely missing the point, since our argument is that the ‘something’ they’re doing is making it harder to affect real, lasting, change.

So let me begin by saying this – assume Sea Shepherd’s motives are absolutely pure, assume they really are try to protect the oceans, assume their commitment is absolute, then our main argument is still sound – they aren’t doing a very good job and they are generating a lot of ill will in the process. strplogo1

“Oh sure,” you say, “you can rag on Sea Shepherd ’til your face turns blue. Why don’t you show us someone who’s doing it right?”

Enter STRP.

I’m going to give a hat tip to the MarineBioBlog now, instead of at the end, since you really should go read their post before you continue. It’s very good and I’d hate to steal another blog’s thunder.

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In defense of Sea Shepherd

The discussion on the merits of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was incredibly heated and many good points were raised on both sides. Unfortunately, as often happens when comment threads approach 100+ comments, many of the strongest arguments get diluted in a sea of verbiage. I decided to invite one of our frequent commenters, Craig Nazor, to write a guest post on  his views of Sea Shepherd. Enjoy!

~Southern Fried Scientist

cninca5kbThe debate is whether the tactics of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) are helping or hurting the cause of shark conservation.  A disclaimer: this is NOT an official response from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Although I am a supporter of that organization, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Any debate that is not going to polarize the ranks of the good guys (that’s us, the conservationists) must be based on facts, and not on false assumptions and not just on emotional reactions. One common but illogical tactic often used to try to win a debate is to repeat a falsehood over and over, hoping to win for a lie the mantle of truth. A lot of time can be wasted refuting lies (or, more diplomatically, opinions disguised as facts). Another related tactic is to use words with unclear definitions but high emotional connotations. In its most simple form, this is what I would label “name calling,” as in recent uses on this blog of the terms “violent,” “criminal,” and “eco-terrorist.” Unfortunately, some of this response is going to have to be focused on addressing such unproductive tactics.

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