It has just turned winter in the Northern Hemisphere, which
means that it is now summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The
Japanese whaling fleet has entered the Southern Ocean to kill up to
a self-designated quota of 333 minke whales, and Sea Shepherd has
We have heard the story before, and many of us have watched the
drama play out during six seasons of the TV series “Whale Wars” on
Animal Planet. This year, Sea Shepherd hopes to have an advantage
with a ship declared to be faster than the Japanese whaling
vessels, as I explained in
Water Ways at the end of August.
On Dec. 3, the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin left Melbourne,
Australia, for the Southern Ocean for its 11th campaign against the
whalers. The Steve Irwin was followed a day later by the new ship,
Ocean Warrior. Yesterday, the Ocean Warrior located one of the
Japanese harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru, inside the Southern
Ocean Whale Sanctuary, according to Capt. Adam Meyerson, the
skipper of the Ocean Warrior.
“The crews of the Ocean Warrior and the MV Steve Irwin have been
battling through thick fog and ice to protect the whales in the
Australian whale sanctuary,” Meyerson said in a
news release. “The Yushin Maru was hiding behind an iceberg and
came out on a collision course.
“Finding one of the hunter-killer ships hiding behind an iceberg
in a thick fog means that the rest of the fleet is nearby,” he
added. “We all hope to have whaling in the Southern Ocean shut down
Capt. Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,
has condemned the Humane Society of the U.S. for forming an
alliance with SeaWorld, saying SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby “has found
his Judas,” and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle “single-handedly put the
brakes on the movement inspired by Blackfish.” Read the full
Sea Shepherd’s website.
SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the U.S. are urging President
Obama to take a stronger stand against whaling by the Japanese
harpoon fleet, which recently returned to Japan with 333 dead minke
whales, all killed in the Antarctic.
“The United States is well-positioned to lead a comprehensive
effort to persuade Japan to abandon commercial whaling as an
anachronism that is imprudent, unnecessary for food security, cruel
and economically unsound,” states the
letter to Obama (PDF 464 kb), signed by Joel Manby, president
and CEO of SeaWorld, and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of
Combining forces to oppose commercial hunting of marine mammals
throughout the world is one element of a negotiated agreement
between SeaWorld and HSUS. Of course, the most notable parts of
that agreement specified that SeaWorld would discontinue its
breeding program for killer whales and halt all theatrical
Water Ways, March 17.
This year’s whale hunt in the Antarctic was endorsed by the
Japanese government, which considers dead whales to be lethal
samples of tissue collected during an annual “research” trip, which
ultimately puts whale meat on the commercial market.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the whale
hunt, as carried out at that time, failed to meet scientific
standards. As a result, the Japanese government took a year off
from whaling, altered its plan and continued the whale hunt at the
end of last year going into this year. This time, Japanese
officials declared that they would no longer be subject to
international law on this issue, so a new lawsuit would be
Meanwhile, an expert panel of the International Whaling
Commission took a look at the new “research” plan and concluded
that Japan still had not shown how killing whales conforms to the
requirements of research, given options for nonlethal research. See
of the Expert Panel …”
Last week’s report by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean
Research said the whalers were able to obtain all 333 minke whales
proposed in the plan. It was the first time in seven years that the
full sampling was completed, because Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society was not there to interfere, according to the report on the New
Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean.
Of the 333 whales, males numbered 103 and females 230. Of the
females, 76 percent were sexually mature, and 90 percent of the
mature females were pregnant, suggesting a healthy population of
minke whales, according to the report.
The letter from Manby and Pacelle acknowledged that the U.S.
government had joined with 30 nations in December to write a letter
voicing concerns about Japan’s decision to resume whaling. But the
Manby-Pacelle letter also complains that the U.S. has given up its
leadership role on the issue, ceding to New Zealand and Australia
for the legal battles.
“In the United Kingdom, in Latin America, and elsewhere, whale
welfare is high on the diplomatic agenda with Japan and other
whaling nations,” the letter states. “We believe that it is time
for the United States to re-assert itself as a champion for whales,
and to take a stronger hand in pressing Japan to relinquish
Among the steps that should be considered, according to the
The U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission
should be empowered to threaten Japan with sanctions, though
details were not specified in the letter.
The U.S. government should include provisions against whaling
in international trade agreements.
Japan’s potential assets should be surveyed as a prelude to
invoking the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act of
1967. The amendment allows a ban on imports of fishing products
from a country that violates international fishery conservation
rules — including those of the IWC.
Meanwhile, the successful Japanese whale hunt has motivated
environmental groups throughout the world to call on their national
governments to confront Japan directly, at least in diplomatic
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has confronted the
Japanese whaling ships on the high seas in years past, is
rethinking its plans for the future, according to Capt. Peter
Hammarstedt, chairman of Sea Shepherd Australia’s Board of
“Sea Shepherd was handicapped by the new ICR strategy of
expanding their area of operations and reducing their quota,
meaning that the time to locate them within the expanded zone made
intervention extremely difficult with the ships that Sea Shepherd
is able to deploy,” Hammarstedt said in a
This past season was an opportunity for world governments to
find the resolve to uphold international conservation law, he said.
The Australian and New Zealand governments could have sent patrols
to protect declared sanctuaries, but they failed to do so, “and
this has served to illustrate that the only thing that has proven
effective against the illegal Japanese whaling fleet has been the
interventions by Sea Shepherd,” he added.
Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director, said
the Australian and New Zealand governments have offered false
“The majority of Australians wanted the Australian government to
send a vessel to oppose the slaughter,” Hansen said. “They did not.
Sea Shepherd requested that the Australian government release the
location of the whalers. They refused. Instead, the governments
responsible for protecting these magnificent creatures stood by, in
the complete knowledge that both federal and international crimes
were taking place. This empty response from authorities in the wake
of the ICJ ruling is a disgrace.”
Hammarstedt hinted that Sea Shepherd might be back later this
year when the Japanese ships take off for another season of
“Sea Shepherd will soon have a fast long-range ship,” he said.
“More importantly, Sea Shepherd has something that the Australian
and New Zealand governments lack — and that is the courage, the
passion and the resolve to uphold the law.”
For the past several years, June has brought us a new television
season of “Whale Wars.” But this year the production has been
delayed, and nobody seems to know when the show is likely to
Whale Wars, of course, is the weekly documentary showing
confrontations on the high seas, as Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society tries to stop Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.
As I reported in January (Water
Ways, Jan. 4), Sea Shepherd hired its own film crew during this
past whaling season (summer in the Antarctic, winter here). At the
time, it seemed like the group did so to be able to control the
filming. But in a new blog entry in
The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian suggests that it was the
Animal Planet producers who got cold feet, given the Ninth Circuit
Court injunction that prevented Sea Shepherd from getting within
500 feet of the Japanese ships.
The U.S. affiliate of Sea Shepherd and Capt. Paul Watson himself
withdrew from the anti-whaling campaign, leaving in charge the
Australian affiliate, which is not subject to U.S. court
Brian Eley, senior communications manager for Discovery Channel,
responded to my inquiry yesterday, saying it isn’t clear when
Season 6 of “Whale Wars” will air. Footage was delayed this year
“through no fault of anyone.”
When I hear about research taking place in Earth’s polar
regions, I often wonder how our amazing ice-breaker ships make it
through the ice. Do they just plow forward without hesitation, or
do they worry about getting stuck?
Cassandra Brooks, a doctoral student at Stanford University,
recently compiled an intriguing video showing time-lapse scenes of
the Nathaniel B. Palmer on a cruise just completed in the Ross Sea
of the Antarctic.
Cassandra’s narration provides a clear explanation of all kinds
of ice encountered by the ice breaker, and she touches on the
“It was so beautiful,” Brooks told
NBC News’ LiveScience. “And it was such a neat experience to be
on this crazy boat that was just screaming through the ice.”
In today’s featured video, National Geographic photographer Paul
Nicklen calmly describes his underwater encounter with a massive
leopard seal in the Antarctic.
I guess Nicklen was not so calm at the time, as he tells in his
narration, but he stayed in place and kept shooting as the leopard
seal made moves toward him that could be interpreted in various
ways. Nicklen, who has plenty of experience around wild animals,
said the seal acted aggressive at first but later tried to make a
connection, perhaps by offering the diver a penguin to eat.
Nicklen, who has been working in the polar regions for 17 years,
had a “unique childhood among the Intuit in Canada’s Arctic,”
according to his bio. He has
shot some amazing and exciting scenes, and I’m an admirer of his
images of the spirit bear, which is another unique story. See the
spirit bear photos on his webpage, and check out the
National Geographic story by Bainbridge Island writer Bruce
Barcott. Nicklen lives on Vancouver Island.
As for leopard seals, they are pretty amazing creatures, though
not always amusing. Take a look at this series of videos by
Nature. You can also swim with a leopard seal via a
“crittercam” in this
National Geographic video, which features the work of biologist
Tracey Rogers. (The crittercam part starts about halfway
Another crittercam captures the movements of an Australian sea
lion as it hunts for and eventually eats an octopus. The
National Geographic footage is from a project designed to
figure out what the sea lions are eating. Australian sea lions were
once hunted to near-extinction but are now protected by the
In searching for amusing material, I came to realize that polar
bears and penguins have developed an amazing friendship — at least
in cartoons and amusing videos.
The examples are numerous, and I’ll share some of my favorites
with you now:
1. A dancing bear who has moved in with a penguin angers the
bird with his wasteful use of water. This video was produced for
Environment Agency UK. (Click on the video player at right. And, of
course, the “full screen” version is available.)
2. Apparently, a male polar bear can develop a close
cross-species relationship with a female penguin, but he’d better
watch what he says. The second video on this page is from 4Mations,
another UK website dedicated to interesting and funny cartoons.
4. Who can forget the Coke commercial in
which the polar bear family accidentally invades a Christmas party
being held by a large group of penguins?
5. Here’s one called “Cold Friendship,”
but I have to admit that its subtle message runs a little too deep
for me to locate.
6. Animal Planet’s series called “Animals Save the
Planet” includes a cartoon about the benefits of energy-saving
light bulbs. I’m not sure if the penguin is a slave or just enjoys
a lot of exercise.
7. Someone put a couple of wildlife videos together to
demonstrate the different
lifestyles of penguins and polar bears. (By the way, I’ve heard
that polar bears crawl along thin ice to reduce the risk of
While I enjoy all this paring of polar bears and penguins, I
have to wonder how they ever got together. Polar bears live in the
Arctic on the top side of the world, while penguins live in the
Antarctic on the bottom.
Cartoonist Dave Farley has his own vision about what would
happen if these two species ever got together. See cartoon at
right. Check out Dave’s complete archive of cartoons at the
Now on a more serious note, an online magazine called “Beyond Penguins and Polar
Bears” has been written for elementary school teachers who wish
to integrate science and literature. It’s a good place for anyone
to learn about the polar regions of the Earth. According to the
website’s creators, the first step toward understanding the two
poles is to
“develop a sense of place,” realizing that the Arctic and
Antarctic are very different environments.
Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, now a full-fledged crew
member with Sea Shepherd, is looking forward to watching the fourth
season of “Whale
Wars,” which begins Friday.
A preview for the program shows Izumi standing on the deck of a
ship, gazing into the ocean with tears in her eyes. The clip is so
short that even she can’t recall when that emotional moment was
caught on film.
“It was probably when I saw a whale,” she said — though it could
have been during other events, such as when the Sea Shepherd crew
searched for a private yacht that had gone missing. Only an empty
lifeboat was found.
Izumi, who has not seen any of the final footage, said she
remained in an emotional state during much of the voyage through
the Southern Ocean, where Sea Shepherd did its best to disrupt the
operations of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Many crew members cried tears of happiness when they learned
that the Japanese whalers were packing up and leaving the Antarctic
a month earlier than normal, their efforts to catch whales
confounded by the anti-whaling group. The whaling would stop — at
least for this year — and Sea Shepherd crew members would return
home to their families.
Izumi Stephens, the Bainbridge Island woman who traveled to the
Antarctic to defend whales against Japanese whalers, has ridden an
emotional roller-coaster during her first 40 days at sea.
One thing Izumi has learned is that the sight of a humpback
whale can lift her spirits, she told me today by satellite phone
from the Southern Ocean.
A native of Japan, this single mom signed on with Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society as a translator. She is serving aboard the
Steve Irwin, which is part of a three-vessel anti-whaling fleet in
pursuit of four Japanese whaling ships. (Check out previous
descriptions of Izumi in the
Kitsap Sun Oct. 31 and
Water Ways Nov. 1.)
The Steve Irwin left Hobart, Australia, on Dec. 2. Izumi was at
sea about three weeks — having survived a bout of severe sea
sickness as well as homesickness — when she spotted a massive
humpback whale off the side of the ship.
“Before I saw a whale, I was desperately wanting to see my
daughter and go back home, and I wanted to touch my dogs,” she told
me. “Then I saw a whale, and I think my determination and
motivation and everything caught up with me.”
She still misses her children, her friends and her community,
she says, but seeing that first whale reminded her why she had
joined the battle in the first place.
“I’m doing this for the whales and our future and our
community,” she told me, “and I’m so proud.”
Spending weeks at sea is an experience like nothing she has ever
faced before, Izumi said. She takes her turn at mopping floors,
washing dishes and cleaning toilets. She has used her language
skills on only a few occasions — mostly to speak to Japanese
reporters covering the story and updating Sea Shepherd’s new
Watching whales swimming in the ocean has brought real meaning
to the anti-whaling campaign, she said. A day or two after that
first sighting, Sea Shepherd faced its first encounter with the
Japanese whaling fleet. Continue reading →
A Bainbridge Island resident, Izumi Stephens, will join Sea
Shepherd in its upcoming campaign against the Japanese whaling
fleet in the Antarctic, as I describe in a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
A native of Japan, Izumi will serve as an on-board interpreter
for the anti-whaling group. While engaging whalers, Sea Shepherd
has an occasional need to converse with Japanese ship captains as
well as conveying information to Japanese news reporters.
If you’ve watched “Whale Wars” on television, you know about Sea
Shepherd’s highly confrontational approach to the Japanese fleet,
often maneuvering its vessels into dangerous positions in front,
behind and alongside the massive whaling ships.
Capt. Paul Watson, who heads Sea Shepherd, broke away from
Greenpeace in 1977 as he pushed for more severe actions against
whaling operations throughout the world. In 1980, “operatives” from
his three-year-old organization took credit for sinking the whaling
ship Sierra in Lisbon, Portugal — the first of many similar
Sea Shepherd, which operates throughout the world, has an
ongoing connection to the Northwest. Its international headquarters
is located in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, and Watson
frequently returns to this region. Continue reading →