Whale crusader's shark fin swoop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


A Hong Kong man involved in an operation that helped to stop a Japanese whaling mission in the seas off Antarctica early this year is planning another coup - to halt the killing of sharks by educating the next generation.

Gary Stokes, 39, was the campaign photographer on board the Bob Barker, one of three Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships that stopped the contentious Japanese whaling mission in February.

Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organisation.

Its aim is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.

Having got the better of the notorious Japanese whalers, Stokes' next mission is to set up Sea Shepherd Hong Kong.

The new organisation will focus on the shark fin industry in Hong Kong, and his first priority is to educate children.

'Sea Shepherd jumped at the chance to get a presence in Hong Kong because it's the shark fin capital of the world,' Stokes said.

'There won't be as much direct action as such - it will be more about going to schools and doing educational programmes to highlight what is happening. It's said that over 100 million sharks die per year, but 73 million sharks are killed a year specifically just for shark fin soup. When you consider this, it's completely unsustainable.'

Stokes is hoping to put together a shark booklet for children to help educate the younger generation about what is going on. So far he has had very positive feedback.

'I did some talks just recently at Discovery College with a class of nine- and 10-year-olds and it was great how much they enjoyed it.

'It was amazing how enthusiastic they all were. They soaked up all the information and were really into it.'

Earlier this year Sea Shepherd had a string of high-seas clashes off Antarctica with the whaling ships, which they tailed and pelted with stink bombs. The Japanese retaliated with water cannon and military-style sonic weapons.

In the end, the Japanese whalers were called home early from the annual hunt.

The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban on whaling.

But opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.

It was Stokes' first Antarctica trip and he said: 'I look back at it now and just can't believe that we did it.

'It was astonishing what we achieved. The intention was always to sink them economically and we did that.'

Born in England, Stokes was raised in Malta and Cyprus before heading to Hong Kong in 1990.

The Discovery Bay resident worked for years in the food and beverage industry here and is involved with Hemingway's restaurant in Discovery Bay.

For more information e-mail: hongkong@seashepherd.org or visit www.seashepherd.org