The whaling wars of the Antarctic: the case of Sea Shepherd, “eco-terrorism” and multi-media activism

Howarth, Anita (2011) The whaling wars of the Antarctic: the case of Sea Shepherd, “eco-terrorism” and multi-media activism. In: Mediating Environmental Change: Exploring the Way Forward; 04 Mar 2011, Bournemouth, U.K.. (Unpublished)


This paper explores media constructions of the activist tactics of Sea Shepherd in its clashes with the Japanese Whaling Fleet in the seas around Antarctica. Sea Shepherd formed as a breakaway from Greenpeace in 1999 in protest at what founders perceived to be the latter’s insufficiently aggressive intervention to end whaling thus its modus operandi is grounded in fundamentalism and militant activism. Much of this high profile activism has taken place in some of the most inaccessible and dangerous waters in the world around Antarctica. Despite its remoteness, the organization has worked assiduously at providing images, videoclips and reality television that capture its activities and those of the whaling fleet. These have been distributed not only on the internet and more obvious alternative media forums but also on the front pages of traditional newspapers and a well-respected TV documentary channel. In the process Sea Shepherd has blurred the boundaries between legal/illegal, acceptable/ unacceptable, activism/terrorism. This paper is theoretically located between Epstein’s (2008) seminal analysis of discursive shifts in global hegemonies on whaling and De Lucca’s (1999) analysis of how radical activist discourses – for example, Greenpeace’s anti-whaling campaign of the 1990s – subvert the usual pejorative associations of ‘terrorism’ and attract favourable coverage in the mainstream media. Empirically it explores how some of the mainstream media constructed the clashes in the Antarctic during the 2011 season (December to February). In particular, it explores how the ‘eco-terrorism’ discourses associated with Sea Shepherd distinguish between disquiet at their tactics and sympathy for the cause. It is thus distinguishable from other forms of ‘terrorism’ associated with evil, gratuitous violence and unacceptable fundamentalism. The key then question is how these distinctions are made by mainstream western media.

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