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Greenpeace under attack for helping Inuit whalers

An extremist animal rights group called the Sea Shepherd Society is threatening to interfere with aboriginal whaling in the Arctic.


Mark Gillespie
Special to Nunatsiaq News

NOME The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is working to turn the Yupik Inuit village of Gambell, Alaska into a battleground for its anti-whaling cause.

They’ve also declared war against Greenpeace over Greenpeace’s support for aboriginal subsistence hunting including hunting for bowhead whales.

Last July, the environmental group Greenpeace anchored its vessel Arctic Sunrise near Gambell and spent a day hearing testimony from Inuit elders on global warming.

Greenpeace famous for its battles with the commercial whaling industry told villagers that they do not oppose subsistence whaling by aboriginal people.

Greenpeace helped Inuit retrieve whale

Greenpeace’s stand was put to the test when villagers asked Greenpeace to help tow a dead bowhead whale to shore. Greenpeace activists then used two of their Zodiac inflatable boats to help the Inuit whalers, who had earlier discovered the whale floating dead in the water from unknown causes.

Gambell is one of several Alaskan villages allowed to hunt bowhead whales through special arrangement with the International Whaling Commission. Meat from each struck whale is divided among the friends and family of the whaling crew and is often eaten by thousands of people.

Bering Strait Record reporter Nicole M. Braem was present, and mentioned the incident in a story about the Greenpeace trip.

Picked up on the Internet

Through a reprint in the Internet edition of Nunatsiaq News, the story began to churn through the mill of the Sea Shepherd’s Society’s Seattle public relations office.

An inaccurate Sept. 9 press release described a “harpooned, bullet-ridden bowhead whale carcass,” which was towed “back to the village for butchering.”

“Greenpeace’s willingness to compromise in fact, their eagerness to support these efforts will result in the death of many, many more marine mammals,” stated the release.

A second press release skewed the facts in a different way: “Because the whale was butchered and forensic evidence destroyed, Sea Shepherd cannot confirm if the whale was harpooned or shot.”

Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson was quoted as saying, “Whether the whale was killed by a man and a gun, or a heart attack Greenpeace had no right to illegally assist in the ‘take’ of this endangered species.”

Alaskan whalers do not use guns in their hunts; they use harpoons tipped with explosives.

Sea Shepherd also alleges that Greenpeace illegally participated in an “IWC-sanctioned whale hunt.” A U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service investigation into these allegations is underway.

Sea Shepherd is known for taking international law into its own hands and ramming commercial whaling ships. Its proclaimed mission is to stop all human killing of whales worldwide.

Ominously, the Sept. 10 press release concluded, “Now that Greenpeace has involved their ship Arctic Sunrise in a whale hunt, their ship can be considered a whaler. Greenpeace knows what Sea Shepherd does to illegal whalers.”

Watson recently served 80 days of a 120-day jail sentence in the Netherlands for attempting to ram a Norwegian whaling vessel in 1992. He’s also wanted in Norway on similar charges.

Last week, Greenpeace had no official response to the press release, though an organizer unofficially told The Record the second, more strident press release was issued after Watson became “desperate” for a Greenpeace response.

“Watson’s usual strategy is to find someone from Greenpeace who will bite and respond to this,” said the organizer.

Sea Shepherd’s press releases have gotten little attention in the press, outside a handful of British tabloids and the Amsterdam newspaper Volkskraant.

Michael Kendu, the Pacific Northwest director for Sea Shepherd, said his group plans to focus attention on Greenpeace’s alleged support for a sustainable commercial harvest of whales.

“We see the Gambell incident as further evidence that Greenpeace is completely reversing its anti-whaling stance supporting, if not wholeheartedly endorsing some facets of whaling.”

He said Sea Shepherd will possibly interfere with the Arctic subsistence hunts using one of its three long range vessels. “One of these days, we’re going to turn the bows of our ships toward Alaska,” said Kendu.

He suggests that Native Alaskans support themselves developing tourism in their villages and using the money to import food from the Lower 48.

Reprinted with the permission of the Bering Strait Record.

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