Whale warriors head back to shore

Posted by Laura Grant on February 9, 2009
Posted in Conservation

steve-irwin

After some high drama in the Southern Ocean, the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin and her crew yesterday withdrew from the Japanese whaling fleet and started the return trip to Australia after attempting to obstruct the fleet’s operations for more than a month and save the lives of many whales, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports on its website.

Confrontations between the Steve Irwin and the whaling fleet have resulted in numerous close calls and two collisions, says the Sea Shepherd society. The most recent on Friday drew international media attention, when Tokyo accused the crew of the protest ship of violence when it collided with a harpoon ship Yushin Maru 2 in an attempt to block the transfer of a dead whale up the slipway of the abattoir ship Nisshin Maru.

The protesters said that the whaling fleet had used long-range acoustical devices (LRADs) and high-powered water cannons against them, as well as throwing golf balls and chunks of metal. The Japanese claimed that the protesters had hurled bottles of acid at their ship. But the Sea Shepherd said that it was in fact rotten butter.

Japan officially stopped whaling under a 1986 global moratorium, but because of a loophole it is able to hunt whales for research purposes.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research describes the Sea Shepherd Society as a “self-righteous terrorist group” and has accused it of illegal harassment and terrorism against the ICR’s research.

Captain Paul Watson said in a statement announcing the end of this year’s Sea Shepherd campaign: “I have always said that we would do everything we can short of hurting people to end illegal whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.”

“We have done everything we could with the resources available to us this year. We have shut down their illegal operations for over a month in total. We have cost them money and we have saved the lives of a good many whales. And although we are willing to take the risks required, even to our own lives, I am not prepared to do to the Japanese whalers what they do to the whales and the escalating violence by the whalers will result in some serious injuries and possibly fatalities if this confrontation continues to escalate.”

Japan’s whaling fleet is in Antarctic waters for an annual hunt aimed at catching about 900 whales, Reuters reports.

The Steve Irwin started off in hot pursuit on December 18, following the fleet for more than 3,000km until January 7. It then relocated the fleet on February 1 and since then the whalers had been able to kill only five of the ocean mammals, the Sea Shepherd Society said. “Normally during this period they would be taking 8 to 10 whales per day.”

Captain Watson said that he has been operating at a disadvantage against three harpoon boats that are superior in speed and manoeuvrability to the Steve Irwin. He says he intends to return next year with a ship that is as fast as they are.

“We will never stop intervening against their illegal whaling operations and we will never stop harassing them, blockading them and costing them money. I intend to be their on-going nightmare every year until they stop their horrific and unlawful slaughter of the great whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” he said.

Sea Shepherd says it has over 1,000 hours of video footage taken during this campaign which will be used in a series on Animal Planet called Whale Wars. “People can watch and judge for themselves,” the society says on its website.

For an interesting interview with Paul Watson see Mother Jones.

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