Flickr image courtesy Tiffany Weisberg

Japanese government officials pressed the United States to consider stripping an anti-whaling activist group of its tax-exempt status for creating headaches by physically attempting to stop sea-bound fleets from killing whales. Based in the United States, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has starred in the popular Animal Planet reality show “Whale Wars” for three seasons. As cameras roll, Sea Shepherd activists aggressively harass Japanese whalers on the open ocean by throwing stink bombs onto their decks, attempting to block their passage and even boarding their vessels.

Confidential diplomatic cables released by the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks show that a Japanese minister asked the United States about an investigation into Sea Shepherd’s tax exemption arguing the group had “created a very dangerous situation on the seas.” One cable cites a U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission arguing that the exemption could possibly be rejected “based on [Sea Shepherd’s] aggressive and harmful actions.”

A Sea Shepherd crew member hurls a bottle of rotten butter at a Japanese whaling ship. Flickr image courtesy guano.

Sea Shepherd says Japan is violating a 25-year-old moratorium on whaling by conducting what the country claims is “whale research” that merely disguises the sale of meat and annual hunts leading to the deaths of more than 500 whales. The newly revealed cables suggest Sea Shepherd’s in-your-face activism made negotiations with the Japanese to restrict whaling more difficult. High-profile confrontations between the whalers and Sea Shepherd activists have reportedly created “domestic political embarrassment” for Japan.

During one particularly harrowing incident, a Sea Shepherd vessel known as the Ady Gil – expensively built for maneuvering with contributions and looking like something Batman would use to fight crime – collided with a whaling ship and had its front end ripped off. From a cable discussing conversations with a Japanese vice minister, Shuji Yamada, and another official:

Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan’s request for the U.S. to take action against the organization, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas. The [deputy chief of mission] replied that the U.S. places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of U.S. law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action. [Fisheries Agency Counselor Joji] Morishita went on to say it would be easier for Japan to make progress in the [International Whaling Commission] negotiations if the U.S. were to take action against the Sea Shepherd.

The Wall Street Journal’s Yoree Koh has more with links to the cables.

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G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED,, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.