As activists clash with Japanese whalers on their Antarctic hunt, other anti-whaling campaigners are doing the once unthinkable -- getting out chopsticks and tasting whale meat.
In a bid to reach out to the Japanese public to end the slaughter, the environmental movement Greenpeace is turning its back on confrontation to show it is respectful of Japanese culture.
For Valentine's Day, Greenpeace distributed cards worldwide, including by fax to a Japanese whaling boat, reading, "I love Japan, but whaling breaks my heart."
Greenpeace members shows chocolate shaped whale as they try to give them to participants of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Tokyo, on St. Valentine's Day. Japan invited all 72 members of the IWC to take part but most Western states boycotted the meeting as a charade aimed at resuming commercial hunting. Photo:Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP
And some supporters of the group which has battled for decades to protect the world's largest animals are doing what hardliners find abominable -- eating whale.
Greenpeace last month launched an online travelogue -- the Whale-Love Wagon -- of Japan's whaling towns. In one episode, a Spaniard visits a grandmotherly woman's home to eat whale for the first time and politely tells her in Japanese it was delicious.
"We are making it very clear that we have no problem with Japanese culture or eating whale. We have never been anti-Japanese like the Japanese government always tries to portray us," said Emiliano Ezcurra, an Argentinian Greenpeace activist who helped design the campaign.
"But whaling in Antarctica has nothing to do with Japanese culture," he said.
Greenpeace, he said, had no problem with "subsistence whaling" on Japan's coasts and instead targeted the Antarctic Ocean hunt, which each year infuriates Australians and New Zealanders.
The website, www.whalelove.org/wagon, features playful cartoons of whales and gently highlights Greenpeace's arguments, such as pointing out that Japan has a glut of uneaten whale meat.
The 10-week "Whale-Love Wagon" travelogue is targeting trendsetting young Japanese women. The idea came after years of failure to change whaling policy in Japan, which has been seeking an increasingly assertive role in foreign affairs.
Japan, which uses a loophole in the global moratorium that allows whaling for "research," in 2005 defiantly doubled its catch in the Antarctic to some 1,000 of the giant mammals a year.
This week Tokyo has convened 34 nations in a show of strength ahead of a May meeting of the International Whaling Commission, where Japan is expected once again to make a push to resume outright commercial whaling.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a hardline offshoot of Greenpeace, says previous attempts to go soft on Japan have failed.
Sea Shepherd activists have clashed repeatedly with Japanese whalers in icy waters and dropped threats to ram a boat into the Japanese fleet only after intervention by New Zealand.
"We can wait for Japanese opinion to change, but by that time there won't be any whales left," Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, told AFP by satellite phone in Antarctic waters.
The silver-haired Canadian says his life changed during a 1975 confrontation with Soviet whalers when he saw "a flicker of understanding in the dying whale's eye." He left Greenpeace in 1977 and vowed to protect animals directly.
"Greenpeace, when we started it, was 100 percent opposed to killing whales, which are highly intelligent, socially conscious creatures. Greenpeace has now compromised on that completely," Watson said.
"There is no such thing as sustainable whaling. The trouble with Greenpeace is it's just one big feel-good organisation. Sometimes I feel like Doctor Frankenstein."
Greenpeace insists the aggressive approach will backfire in Japan, where whale meat holds sentimental value for some baby-boomers who ate it after the devastation of World War II.
"It will bring attention, but not necessarily in a positive way," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan's campaign manager.
"What we need to change is to have the Japanese people stand up and say we don't need this whaling," he said. "Otherwise, the Japanese government will keep taking a nationalistic point of view."
Copyright © 2007 AFP