Whaling in the Southern Ocean has sparked heated confrontations between Japan and Australia.

Whaling in the Southern Ocean has sparked heated confrontations between Japan and Australia.

The blood and guts of the whale wars

When SAM VINCENT, BA (IR) (Hons) '10 stepped into the heated debate on whaling in the Southern Ocean, it put him in fascinatingly awkward situations. DR PHIL DOOLEY, BSc (Hons) '90, PhD '99 reports.

It's not often that Australians find themselves the subject of blind hatred but in the whaling heartland of Japan, Sam Vincent decided to pretend he was Norwegian because he feared for his safety.

"It was a pretty hairy situation because someone called the cops, who I then had to show my ID to and explain why I had lied to the whalers," says Vincent.

"I told them I was there volunteering to clean up after the tsunami - which I was - and eventually they calmed down and actually thanked me."

In fact Vincent was sniffing around the whaling industry - as well as volunteering - trying to get a balanced view of the whaling debate, away from the slick PR of anti-whaling groups like the direct action marine conservation organisation, Sea Shepherd.

"Clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd occur in such a remote theatre, the Southern Ocean, where there are no objective witnesses.

"The situation is ripe for bias and exploitation by both sides," he says.

Vincent, who also works as a researcher at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government at ANU, became interested in the debate during earlier trips to Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, where he got to know local fishermen. He also tried whale meat.

"It's nothing special," he says.

"But I like trying to be in the middle of such a polarised debate."

"One of my Icelandic friends, a redneck fisherman, has been known to shoot dolphins."

His penchant for jumping into no-man's land with both feet is chronicled in his book Blood and Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars, which was shortlisted for the 2015 ACT Book of the Year prize and longlisted for a Walkley Award.

"It fascinated me, the experience of being hated in Japan," Vincent says.

To see the other side of the coin, Vincent also spent four months at sea with Sea Shepherd, as the organisation pursued the Japanese whaling fleet across the Southern Ocean.