Whale Wars: A change in ‘weapons’ and tacticsDecember 30th, 2009 by cdunagan
UPDATE, Jan. 5, 2010
Sea Shepherd is reporting tonight that the futuristic Ady Gil was cut in half and may have been sunk by the Shonan Maru 2 in the frigid Southern Ocean. All six crew were rescued, according to a news release by the group.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, which speaks for the Japanese whaling fleet, made no mention of the collision in its latest news release (PDF 38 kb). But the group complained that the Ady Gil came within collision distance, tried to entangle the Shonan Maru 2 propeller, deployed a green laser and fired projectiles that contained butyric acid.
In other new developments, Sea Shepherd has acquired a new ship, the Bob Barker, named for the television personality who donated $5 million to the cause. The vessel, a former Norwegian harpoon ship, has joined the battle. Reuters is covering the story.
Split-screen video of
the collision, one shot from Bob Barker, the other from the
Shonan Maru 2.
UPDATE, Jan. 1, 2010
The Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin has left Australia. Here’s the comment from Capt. Paul Watson in a news release:
“Thanks to the stormy weather, there was no possibility of a chartered flight locating the Steve Irwin and we were able to pass back into international waters without any sign of the Shonan Maru No. 2. They will be hard pressed to locate us now and without them on our tail, I am confident that we will be able to track down the whale poachers in the Australian Antarctic Territory.”
The so-called “Whale Wars” continue in the Antarctic, involving Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is trying to thwart their activities.
The conflict has escalated this year, with new vessels, new “weapons” and new tactics. And the battle line for publicity seems to be growing more intense. I’ll recount some of the action in a moment, but first allow me to set the scene.
Sea Shepherd left Australia for Antarctic waters on Dec. 7 and soon learned that the enemy, the Japanese whalers, had shifted tactics, keeping a ship close to the Sea Shepherd and allowing ship-to-ship clashes to become more frequent.
Sea Shepherd brought a new ship into the battle this year. The high-speed trimaran, formerly the “Earthrace” and recently renamed the “Ady Gil” — can do 50 knots in good conditions.
Unlike Sea Shepherd’s mother ship, the Steve Irwin, the futuristic Ady Gil can keep up with, and even outrun, the Japanese harpoon ships.
On board the Steve Irwin, a film crew is capturing the action again this year and preparing for the third season of “Whale Wars” — the highest-rated television series on the Animal Planet network.
In many ways, the primary battlefront in these whale wars is public perception about the actions and motives of the Japanese whalers and the Sea Shepherd crews. Sea Shepherd officials are quite up front about this, as Laurens de Groot, director for the Netherlands branch of the organization, stated in a news release:
“Letting the world see what happens to the whales in the Southern Ocean is the most powerful anti-whaling weapon at our disposal. The cameras are more powerful than cannons, and our ammunition is the naked truth about illegal whaling. We intend to keep the focus on Japanese crimes, and we intend to sink the Japanese whaling fleet — economically.”
So I guess it is no surprise that the Japanese whalers are responding by speaking out through an organization called the Institute of Cetacean Research. Last year, its director, Minoru Morimoto, issued a statement (PDF 20 kb)
“It is difficult to understand why a mainstream network would stoop so low as to produce a series that glamorizes and thereby gives support to ecoterrorism. Sea Shepherd’s criminal actions last year in the Antarctic were encouraged directly through the presence of the Animal Planet film team. Animal Planet is responsible for inciting this increased violence and aiding and abetting an international criminal organization.”
As the war of war of words escalates, let me recount some of
this year’s actions:
Dec. 7: The main Sea Shepherd crew departs from Fremantle, Australia, aboard the Steve Irwin. The family of the late Steve Irwin — Terri, Bindi and Bob — were there to see them off.
Dec. 10: After passing through the 200-mile territorial boundary, the crew of the Steve Irwin realize they are being followed by a white ship. Though eight miles away, the ship appears to be one of the Japanese harpoon vessels, the Shonan Maru 2. Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson orders a series of sharp turns, which the trailing ship mimics, staying back eight miles.
Dec. 11: The Ady Gil clears customs and heads south out of Tasmania with skipper Pete Bethune in charge.
Dec. 14: Still followed, the Steve Irwin passes behind an iceberg, conducts a figure-8 maneuver and pulls back out within a quarter mile of the Shonan Maru 2, according to accounts from the Sea Shepherd. The Japanese ship fires water canons at the Steve Irwin while fleeing from the Sea Shepherd. After a two-hour chase, Watson breaks off the pursuit and resumes the trip south.
“It was awesome seeing them run like cowards when we turned on them,” Third Mate Vincent Hayes says in the statement.
Dec. 17: By tailing the Steve Irwin, the Japanese ship can radio the location of the Sea Shepherd and keep the rest of the fleet out of reach. In an attempt to lose the Shonan Maru 2, the Irwin receives permission to move into French territorial waters in the Antarctic. The Japanese vessel follows without permission, according to Watson, who orders the helicopter into the air to photograph the Japanese ship in “illegal pursuit.”
The Japanese ship turns on its Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) and aims it at the helicopter.
“This was an extremely irresponsible thing to do,” says helicopter pilot Chris Aultman in a news release. “That device can cause nausea and disorientation, and the use of it against an aircraft is both extremely dangerous and grossly irresponsible.”
The helicopter returns to the mother ship, and Watson reports the incident to French authorities.
To explain the Japanese side of the story, the Institute of Cetacean Research issues a news release (PDF 40 kb) saying the LRAD was deployed to transmit a warning message to the Steve Irwin, which was approaching the Japanese ship.
In a new development not mentioned by the Sea Shepherd, the ICR statement mentions a “green laser device” aboard the Steve Irwin that was aimed at the Shonan Maru 2. No injuries were reported. But, given the distance, “one cannot but conclude that it is a high-powered contrivance,” according to the ICR statement.
Dec. 18: The helicopter carrying pilot Aultman and First Officer Locky MacLean visit the French base at Dumont d’ Urville. There, the two receive a plaque and letter of support on behalf of Sea Shepherd. The Steve Irwin waits at anchor for the Ady Gil.
Dec. 22: With water cannons blasting away, the Shonan Maru 2 moves in close to the Steve Irwin, turns on its LRAD and broadcasts a strange message, according to a news release from Sea Shepherd: “Steve Irwin, cease your aggressive action. Stop your aggressive action. We have the authority to repel you.”
The ship chases and circles the Sea Shepherd vessel, which deploys a stern line to entangle the prop of the pursuing vessel, according to Sea Shepherd, which fires up its own newly installed water cannon. Both crews get wet, but the only reported damage was to some camera gear aboard the Irwin.
The Institute of Cetacean Research’s version (PDF 20 kb) begins with an acknowledgment that the Japanese vessel is “monitoring” the Steve Irwin, which deployed the tangle line, fired the green laser and hurled bottles of butyric acid, according to a statement.
“Five or six of these bottles hit the Japanese vessel’s deck. Neither injuries to the Japanese crew nor damage to the Shonan Maru No. 2 resulted from the Steve Irwin attack. High-power laser devices (laser pointers) are known to be extremely dangerous as they can produce blindness if irradiated to the naked eye… Aiming a laser at a craft where vision and situational awareness are critical for safety may be considered criminal behavior.”
Dec. 23: The Ady Gil meets up with the Steve Irwin while the Shonan Maru 2 was seven miles back, according to a report from the Sea Shepherd. The Ady Gil stays behind to harass the Japanese ship while the Steve Irwin moves on. The tactic only works a short time, as the Shonan Maru renews its pursuit of the Steve Irwin.
The Sea Shepherd claims the Shonan Maru 2 attacked the Ady Gil, which “defended itself with photonic disruptors,” the first acknowledgement that the Sea Shepherd is using laser devices.
The Institute of Cetacean Research has a much different account (PDF 20 kb):
“The attack by the Ady Gil surpasses in viciousness past interference and violent harassment by the Steve Irwin. The Ady Gil clung around the Shonan Maru No. 2 at high speed in disregard of the danger of collision, and the closest approach distance was only 20 meters. In addition, their irradiating a green laser device and their firing of projectiles aiming directly to the Shonan Maru No. 2 crew are flagrant unlawful acts.”
And that’s where the Sea Shepherd has paused to celebrate the holidays. The latest information comes from ABC News, which says the Steve Irwin is back in Australia for fuel and supplies.