Tag Archives: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Sea Shepherd regroups, plans new battles with Japanese whalers

An organization called Sea Shepherd Global announced yesterday that it will take up the cause of battling Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica later this year.

The announcement comes just days after court approval of a legal settlement, a deal that will forever block Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from confronting Japanese whalers on the high seas.

Sea Shepherd Global, based in The Netherlands, apparently is out of reach of the U.S. courts, which sanctioned the original Sea Shepherd group for its sometimes violent actions against the whalers. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the U.S. group, is led by its founder, Capt. Paul Watson, who had stepped down for a time.

The Ocean Warrior is a new ship added to Sea Shepherd Global's fleet. Photo: Gerard Wagemakers, courtesy of Sea Shepherd Global
The Ocean Warrior is a new ship added to Sea Shepherd Global’s fleet.
Photo: Gerard Wagemakers, courtesy of SSG

Sea Shepherd Global has mobilized its forces for what it calls the “11th direct-action whale defense campaign.” The group has built a new ship it claims can keep up with and surpass the Japanese harpoon ships. Anyone who has watched “Whales Wars,” the reality television series, probably knows that Sea Shepherd’s ships have suffered from a lack of speed and were often left in wake of the whaling vessels.

Sea Shepherd, with its fierce opposition to killing marine mammals, has always claimed to be on the right side of international law when it comes to whaling. Now its members are inspired by a 2014 ruling in the International Court of Justice, which found that whaling — at least as practiced by Japanese whalers — is not a scientific endeavor. The Japanese government has lost its only justification for whaling until it develops new scientific protocols acceptable to the International Whaling Commission. Review a discussion of these issues in Water Ways, March 31, 2014, with an update on Dec. 14, 2015.

Sea Shepherd Global also justifies its plans with a contempt-of-court citation filed by the Australian Federal Court against the Japanese whalers for killing protected whales within the Australia Whale Sanctuary. Japan, however, does not recognize the sanctuary nor the Australian jurisdiction.

“If we cannot stop whaling in an established whale sanctuary, in breach of both Australian Federal and international laws, then what hope do we have for the protection of the world’s oceans?” asked Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia in a news release. “We must make a stand and defend whales with everything we’ve got.”

After the International Court of Justice ruling, the Japanese took a year off from whaling before submitting a new whaling plan, which was questioned by a scientific committee at the International Whaling Commission. Without waiting for approval, the whalers returned to the Southern Ocean last December. A limited Sea Shepherd fleet followed, but the whalers killed 333 minke whales — a quota approved by the Japanese government but nobody else.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) has been engaged in a legal battle with the Japanese-sponsored Institute of Cetacean Research in the U.S. courts. Initially, a U.S. district judge dismissed the Japanese claims. On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called Sea Shepherd a “pirate” organization, ordered the group to stay away from the Japanese ships and eventually found Sea Shepherd in contempt of court for a peripheral involvement in the anti-whaling effort. Initial appeals court ruling: Water Ways, Feb. 26, 2013.

SSCS agreed to pay $2.55 million to settle a damage claim from Japan in light of the contempt ruling. The group had been hoping that Japan’s lawsuit in the U.S. courts would open the door for a countersuit, in which the illegality of Japanese whaling would spelled out and confirmed.

All legal claims and counterclaims were dropped in the settlement agreement (PDF 410 kb) between SSCS and the Institute of Cetacean Research. The agreement, approved last week by U.S. District Judge James Robart, says SSCS cannot approach Japanese whaling ships closer than 500 yards. SSCS cannot provide financial support to anyone else who would approach the Japanese ships in an aggressive way, including “any entity that is part of the worldwide ‘Sea Shepherd’ movement and/or uses or has used some version of the ‘Sea Shepherd’ name.”

The agreement mentions a “settlement consideration to be paid to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,” although the amount has not been disclosed.

The Institute of Cetacean Research immediately issued a news release about the settlement. Paul Watson offered a three-pronged post on his Facebook page. One part was his own message, saying Sea Shepherd would remain opposed to whaling but would comply with the settlement provisions.

Another part was a statement from Capt. Alex Cornelissen, director of Sea Shepherd Global:

“The ruling in the US courts affects ONLY the US entity. All the other Sea Shepherd entities in the Global movement are not bound by the US legal system, the mere assumption that it does clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of Sea Shepherd Global’s structure. Sea Shepherd Global and all other entities around the world, other than the USA, will continue to oppose the illegal Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.”

The third part was a quote from a BBC story:

“Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, told the BBC the U.S. ruling would ‘absolutely not’ affect its own operations. He said if the ICC (sic, ICR?) were to pursue Sea Shepherd in Australia ‘they would be entering into a court system they’re in contempt of, and we would welcome that.’”

In its statement yesterday, Sea Shepherd Global said it was disappointed that the international community has not taken more steps to protect whales in the Southern Ocean. Still, Sea Shepherd Global will be there with a new fast ship, the Ocean Warrior, built with the financial support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the British People’s Postcode Lottery and the Svenska PostkodLotteriet.

“For the first time, we will have the speed to catch and outrun the Japanese harpoon ships, knowing speed can be the deciding factor when saving the lives of whales in the Southern Ocean,” said Cornelissen.

The Ocean Warrior will undergo final preparations in Australia at the end of the year, about the time that Japanese whaling ships arrive for their anticipated harvest of marine mammals. And so the whale wars will go on but without any involvement from Paul Watson and his U.S. contingent.

By the way, Paul, who had been living in exile in France, has returned to the U.S., according to a news release from Sea Shepherd that recounts Paul’s history of fleeing from prosecutors in Japan and Costa Rica. Paul, 65, and his wife, Yanina Rusinovich, a Russian-born opera singer, are now living in Woodstock, Vermont, and expecting a baby in October.

SeaWorld pulled into long-running battle against Japanese whaling

UPDATE: April 4, 2016

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 commentary on Sea Shepherd’s website.
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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.

Three dead minke whales were hauled up on the deck of the Japanese whale-processing ship MV Nisshin Maru in 2014. Photo: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia
Three dead minke whales were hauled up on the deck of the Japanese whale-processing ship MV Nisshin Maru in 2014 in the Antarctic.
Photo: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia

“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 HSUS.

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 performances. See 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 meaningless.

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 “Report 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 commercial whaling.”

Among the steps that should be considered, according to the letter:

  • 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.

For readers interested in the SeaWorld issue, I should note that Pacelle still vigorously defends his alliance with SeaWorld. In a blog post announcing the anti-whaling letter, he adds further explanations for his position.

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 circles.

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 Directors.

“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 news release.

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 promises.

“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 whaling.

“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.”

Japanese whalers intend to kill minke whales, despite world opinion

Japanese whalers recently returned to the Antarctic with a new plan to kill 333 minke whales for scientific research, defying official positions of many countries throughout the world.

A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 try to finish it off with a rifle. Photo: Sea Shepherd
A harpooned minke whale lies dying, as whalers aboard the Japanese ship Yushin Maru Number 3 attempt to finish it off with rifle shots.
Photo: Sea Shepherd

Japan called off the annual whaling program for one year after the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s commercial whaling operation failed to meet the basic requirements of scientific research. Japan had been using an exemption for research to get around a ban on whaling under international treaty.

Japan submitted a new “research” plan for this year’s whaling, but the document has yet to receive any official sanction. In fact, Japan’s return to the Southern Ocean has been condemned by at least 33 government leaders.

Russell F. Smith II, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, said the U.S. government does not believe it is necessary to kill whales to carry out scientific research consistent with objectives of the IWC. Two key IWC committees have raised serious questions about Japan’s whaling program, he said.

“Japan has decided to proceed with the hunt without addressing several significant issues raised in their reports,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “One of the key issues raised during both the Expert Panel and SC (Scientific Committee) meetings was that Japan had not justified the need for lethal whaling to carry out its research. Unfortunately, rather than giving itself time to modify its research program to fully address these issues, Japan has decided to restart its program now.”

Japan’s plan for whaling this winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) is to kill 333 minke whales, down from 935 minkes in plans for previous years. In this new plan, the Japanese government has not sanctioned the killing of humpback or fin whales, for which the previous goal was 50 of each.

Although the Japanese government has declared that an annual harvest of 333 minke whales is sustainable, the International Whaling Commission has not approved the whale hunt nor even begun discussing possible quotas or how any harvest, if approved, would be allocated among other countries.

Minke whale Photo: Sea Shepherd
Minke whale // Photo: Sea Shepherd

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has informed the United Nations that it will no longer submit to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for “any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea.” See story, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 19, 2015.

Australia, which brought the international lawsuit against Japan, is now considering another round in the legal battle. The effort could put Japan back in the spotlight, even though success would be unlikely if Japan spurns the court’s jurisdiction, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald on Dec. 8, 2015.

Australian courts also ruled against the Japanese whalers for violating protection provisions within the Australian Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica, although Japan does not recognize Australia’s jurisdiction. The whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, was fined $1 million (in Australian dollars) for contempt of an injunction against killing Minke whales within the sanctuary.

Other countries have joined the overall opposition to Japanese whaling. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his country’s ambassador to Tokyo delivered a “strong” formal message to Japan from 33 countries. Read the statement on the New Zealand Embassy’s webpage.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which directly interfered with the movements of Japanese whaling ships in past years, may take a more low-key role on whaling this year. The organization’s ships have become involved in new campaigns to halt poaching of other species, including the endangered toothfish in Antarctic waters. See news release Oct. 13, 2015.

Sea Shepherd’s U.S. affiliate was enjoined by the U.S. courts from interfering with the whaling operations, but Sea Shepherd Australia continued the high-seas battles, as featured in the television series “Whale Wars” on Animal Planet.

Now, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin, which was undergoing repairs in Melbourne, Australia, is headed into the Southern Ocean on its second campaign against toothfish poaching. Alex Cornelissen, CEO of Sea Shepherd Global, says new battles against the Japanese whalers are not out of the question.

“Sea Shepherd is an anti-poaching organization,” Cornelissen said in a news release. “We are ready to find, document, report on and where possible intervene against poaching operations that threaten the precious balance of life in the Southern Ocean; whatever form those poachers might take, whatever life they threaten.

“If Sea Shepherd comes across criminal activity, then our history speaks for itself,” he added. “We will, as always, directly intervene to prevent that crime from taking place.”

Sea Shepherd U.S., which was thwarted in direct action by the courts, has now filed a counterclaim in those same U.S. Courts, hoping to get a legal injunction against the Japanese government for its whaling activities. The legal campaign is called “Operation Ultimate Justice.”

“For years, Sea Shepherd took direct action against the whalers on the seas, saving one whale at a time from the Japanese harpoons,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. “But if we are to bring the illegal slaughter to an end once and for all, we cannot simply defeat the Japanese whalers on the water; we need to defeat them in the courts.”

‘Whale Wars’ returns amid multiple legal entanglements

The seventh season of “Whale Wars” — a three-hour presentation premiering on Friday — follows on the heels of an unresolved contempt-of-court ruling against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society earlier this month.

Sea Shepherd captains (from left) Sid Chakravarty, Peter Hammarstedt and Adam Meyerson during 2014 Operation Relentless Sea Shepherd photo by Eliza Muirhead
Sea Shepherd captains (from left) Sid Chakravarty, Peter Hammarstedt and Adam Meyerson during 2014 Operation Relentless
Sea Shepherd photo by Eliza Muirhead

The new program, to be shown at 5 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet network, documents the 2013-2014 Antarctic whaling season and the sometimes-violent confrontation between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers. Check out the Sneak Preview.

While Sea Shepherd faces some serious court rulings, the Japanese government finds itself in conflict with the International Court of Justice, which concluded that its “scientific” whaling program does not conform to scientific principles — which was the legal justification for the program — so the whaling must stop, at least for now. See Water Ways, March 24, 2014.

Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, appears to have ticked off the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which first called his group a “pirate” operation in December 2012. The court issued an injunction to keep Sea Shepherd ships at least 500 feet away from the Japanese whaling vessels. (See Water Ways, Feb. 26, 2013.)

In its latest ruling on Dec. 19, the court says Watson and Sea Shepherd’s U.S. board of directors acted contrary to its injunction by shifting their anti-whaling operations over to the related group Sea Shepherd, Australia. In the court’s view, Watson should have done what was necessary to halt the anti-whaling tactics, not find a way to continue them. As Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. wrote in his findings (PDF 127 kb):

“Sea Shepherd US’s separation strategy effectively nullified our injunction by ensuring that OZT (Operation Zero Tolerance) proceeded unimpeded, in part by using former Sea Shepherd US assets. Sea Shepherd US ceded control over OZT to Sea Shepherd Australia and other Sea Shepherd entities it believed to be beyond the injunction’s reach, knowing these entities were virtually certain to violate the injunction.

“At the same time, Sea Shepherd US continued to provide financial and other support for OZT after the injunction by, among other things, transferring for no consideration a vessel and equipment worth millions of dollars to Sea Shepherd Australia and other entities…

“Rather than instruct its employees to help prevent OZT, Sea Shepherd US effectively shifted these employees to its affiliates’ payrolls to ensure continued participation in a campaign it knew was very likely to result in violations of the injunction…

“Our objective in issuing the injunction was to stop Sea Shepherd from attacking the plaintiffs’ vessels. Sea Shepherd US thwarted that objective by furnishing other Sea Shepherd entities with the means to do what it could not after the issuance of the injunction. It has long been settled law that a person with notice of an injunction may be held in contempt for aiding and abetting a party in violating it.”

These court findings were all related to Operation Zero Tolerance, the Sea Shepherd campaign that ended in March of 2013. The ruling did not address Operation Relentless, which ended in March of 2014 and is the subject of Friday’s “Whale Wars” event. I wonder if Japan will attempt to use the U.S. courts to collect for damages related to the latest conflict.

The International Court of Justice ruling against the Japanese whaling operations seems to have had no effect on how the U.S. Court of Appeals views Sea Shepherd’s actions. Sea Shepherd’s activities were still illegal, the court ruled, and the injunction would still be needed if the whaling were to resume under conditions acceptable to the international court. See “order denying defendants’ motion to dismiss” (PDF 308 kb).

In fact, although whaling was suspended for the 2014-15 season, the Japanese government has submitted a new plan (PDF 2.3 mb) to resume whaling at this time next year. The plan calls for an annual harvest of 333 minke whales — as opposed to the previous plan to take 850 minkes, 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales. For additional insight on the controversy, read Dennis Normile’s piece in Science Insider, affiliated with Science magazine.

As for the upcoming “Whale Wars” special, a news release from Animal Planet says the action will be as exciting as ever, even with Paul Watson gone from the scene:

“With Captain (Peter) Hammarstedt once again at the helm and tensions with the whalers at an all-time high, this new campaign will likely be the most aggressive and dangerous the Sea Shepherds have faced.”

This episode of “Whale Wars” was produced by Lizard Trading Company, using raw footage filmed by Sea Shepherd crew members. That’s similar to the arrangement for last year’s two-hour special. (See Water Ways, Nov. 7, 2013.)

International court rules against Japanese whaling

Japanese whalers who hunt whales in the Antarctic can no longer justify their actions as “scientific research” and must stop their annual whale roundup, according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

The court ruled today that Japan’s so-called “research” does not meet ordinary scientific standards. The court ordered Japan to stop killing whales under the guise of its research program, called JARPA II. As stated in a 73-page finding (PDF 649 kb) supported by 12 of the 16 judges:

“Taken as a whole, the Court considers that JARPA II involves activities that can broadly be characterized as scientific research, but that the evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives.

“The Court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not ‘for purposes of scientific research’ pursuant to Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the Convention (the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling).”

In the legal action brought before the United Nations court by Australia, the judges carefully scrutinized the JARPA II methods and procedures. They found that the sampling procedure and lethal take of minke, fin and humpback whales falls short of legitimate scientific study in many regards:

“The fact that the actual take of fin and humpback whales is largely, if not entirely, a function of political and logistical considerations, further weakens the purported relationship between JARPA II’s research objectives and the specific sample size targets for each species — in particular, the decision to engage in the lethal sampling of minke whales on a relatively large scale.”

A news release (PDF 174 kb) issued by the court does a fair job of summarizing the findings:

“Examining Japan’s decisions regarding the use of lethal methods, the court finds no evidence of any studies of the feasibility of or the practicability of non-lethal methods, either in setting the JARPA II sample sizes or in later years in which the programme has maintained the same sample size targets. The court also finds no evidence that Japan examined whether it would be feasible to combine a smaller lethal take and an increase in non-lethal sampling as a means to achieve JARPA II’s research objectives.”

After the ruling, Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s representative at the court, addressed reporters at the Peace Palace in The Hague. According to a report by Australian Associated Press, Tsuruoka stated:

“Japan regrets and is deeply disappointed that JARPA II … has been ruled by the court as not falling within the provisions of Article 8. However, as a state that respects the rule of law, the order of international law and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the decision of the court.”

He said Japanese officials would need to digest the judgment before considering a future course of action. He refused to discuss whether a new research program could be crafted to allow whaling to resume.

Australian officials were careful not to gloat over the victory as they emphasized the need to maintain favorable relations with Japan. Bill Campbell, Australia’s general counsel in the case, was quoted by the AAP:

“The decision of the court today, important as it is, has given us the opportunity to draw a line under the legal dispute and move on.”

The ruling was welcomed by environmental groups, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sent ships to the Antarctic to directly confront the whaling ships and interfere with their whaling activities, as seen on the television show “Whale Wars.” Capt. Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global had this to say in a news release:

“With today’s ruling, the ICJ has taken a fair and just stance on the right side of history by protecting the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the vital marine ecosystem of Antarctica, a decision that impacts the international community and future generations. Though Japan’s unrelenting harpoons have continued to drive many species of whales toward extinction, Sea Shepherd is hopeful that in the wake of the ICJ’s ruling, it is whaling that will be driven into the pages of the history books.”

‘Whale Wars’ to return as two-hour special

“Whale Wars,” which chronicles dramatic high-seas clashes between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Japanese whalers, will be reduced to a two-hour television special this year. The program will run on Dec. 13 on the Animal Planet network.

whale wars

For five years, the program was produced as a weekly series. But we knew things were changing a year ago when Sea Shepherd decided to hire its own videographers instead of using an independent film crew associated with Animal Planet. Check out Water Ways, June 11, 2013.

Normally, the anti-whaling campaign ran through the summer whaling season in the Antarctic, generally from December into February or March. The series then followed each year in June. But this year the production was delayed, and it was hard to find out when the program would air or in what format.

Brian Eley, vice president of communications for Animal Planet, sent out a news release this morning explaining the new format with these highlights:

Capt. Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, is no longer in charge of the anti-whaling campaign at sea. He was ordered by federal courts in the U.S. to keep his vessels back from the Japanese whaling ships. As I’ve reported, the campaign was turned over to Sea Shepherd Australia, which the organization contends is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

“Leaderless and without Watson’s vast experience in aggressively engaging the whalers at sea, the Sea Shepherds are at a crossroads. Which one of the Sea Shepherds will take the mantle of leader and guide the group as they embark on their dangerous mission ‘to die for the whales?’”

Four captains are assigned to Sea Shepherd’s fleet, consisting of the Steve Irwin with Siddarth “Sid” Chakravarty at the helm; Bob Barker with Peter Hammarstedt; the trimaran Brigitte Bardot with Jean Yves Terlan; and the newest ship Sam Simon with Luis Manuel Pinho.

The actions of one of the rookie captains lead to tensions among the crew and the early retreat of one of the vessels, while another captain “makes a major decision that nearly causes a mutiny.”

Update, 5:30 p.m.: Brian Eley told me in an email that this year’s production was especially challenging. Animal Planet remained committed to following that actions of Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean, he said, but with all the “legal complexities” surrounding the organization, Animal Planet looked for an alternative to the formula used over the previous five years.

“We’re actually using the Sea Shepherds’ legal issues as a storytelling device in the special,” Brian said. “And because the Sea Shepherds’ shot the footage themselves, there was a delay in getting and then evaluating the thousands of hours of footage, so the series was delayed to this fall. What happened during their campaign was a story that made sense to produce as a two-hour special, not a multi-episode series.”

In another change this year, Animal Planet will offer a “ground-breaking, immersive online experience,” according to the news release. Included will be photos, video, interactive graphics and sound to produce a “powerful narrative that tells the tale of Watson and the Sea Shepherds, while also offering the perspective of the Japanese whalers whom they confront.” The new website will launch shortly before the television special.

Coincidentally, Watson and other members of Sea Shepherd are making an appearance this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, where they have argued that their actions did not violate the injunction issued last year. Reporter Gene Johnson wrote the story for The Associated Press.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Watson said one of the reasons he took the risk of being arrested this week was because he has not seen his granddaughter in 15 months. “So that was the most important thing about coming back.”

The next campaign in the Southern Ocean, still under the direction of Sea Shepherd Australia, is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, according to Watson.

There’s still no word if Animal Planet will be involved in another “Whale Wars” television series or special.

‘Whale Wars’ delayed by production issues

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 air.

whale wars

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 jurisdiction.

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.”

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Anti-whaling confrontation escalates in Antarctica

This year’s encounters between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society appear to be the most violent of any year so far — and the whaling season is not yet over.

As I described in the previous entry in Water Ways, which I just completed, legal action against Sea Shepherd has caused few substantive changes in these high-seas confrontations. That’s because Sea Shepherd has transferred all such operations from its U.S. organization and to its Australian organization. The move effectively removes jurisdiction by the U.S. government, according to Sea Shepherd reports, mentioned in the previous blog post.

So let’s catch up on actions so far this year in the Southern Ocean between Sea Shepherd and the Institute of Cetacean Research. As I reported in January (Water Ways, Jan. 4), Sea Shepherd has added the 184-foot SSS Sam Simon, a former Japanese government ship, to its flotilla. The fleet now includes four primary vessels: the Sam Simon, Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot, as well as several unmanned surveillance aircraft.

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U.S. court declares Sea Shepherd a ‘pirate’ group

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” begins Judge Alex Kozinski, launching into a scathing ruling against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which the judge calls a “pirate” organization.

Kozinski, chief judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, concluded in a ruling today that U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had made “numerous, serious and obvious errors” when he declined to issue an injunction against Sea Shepherd for its high-seas battle against Japanese whalers.

The three-judge panel ordered that the case be removed from Jones’ jurisdiction and turned over to another Seattle district judge drawn at random.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Cetacean Research — the Japanese whaling organization — continues its effort to get a contempt-of-court citation issued against Sea Shepherd, which has increased its efforts to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd remains under a U.S. Court of Appeals injunction, which requires that the organization’s ships operate safely and stay 500 yards away from the Japanese vessels.

I’ll provide an update on Sea Shepherd’s activities in a separate blog post, but let me first tell you more about Kozinski’s ruling (PDF 238 kb), which finds nothing commendable about any of Sea Shepherd’s actions.

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As whaling resumes, Sea Shepherd faces legal issues

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Japanese whaling fleet is headed toward the Antarctic to kill whales, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is waiting with an increased armada to frustrate the whaling effort.

The level of intrigue has increased substantially this year, as Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd has become an international fugitive and Sea Shepherd finds itself under a U.S. court order to maintain a safe distance from the Japanese fleet.

Even the television show “Whale Wars” could be different this year, as Sea Shepherd has hired its own camera crew. That move has left network executives at Animal Planet somewhat uncertain about the upcoming sixth season of the show.

SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet.Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd
SSS Sam Simon, the newest vessel in the Sea Shepherd fleet. / Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that the Japanese “research whaling fleet” left the Shimonoseki Port in Western Japan last Friday. The Japan Times reported that the Japanese Fisheries Agency has authorized a take of up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this year.

Sea Shepherd crews departed for the Southern Ocean in mid-December with four vessels, including the latest addition — the 184-foot SSS Sam Simon, a former Japanese government vessel once used for meteorological research. The formidable ship, which has a hull strengthened for ice, was purchased for Sea Shepherd by the co-creator of “The Simpsons.” Read more in Sea Shepherd’s news release.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, was arrested in Frankfort, Germany, last May on charges relating to an incident in Central America in 2002. He was released on bail but failed to check in the following month, as required by conditions of his release. Siobhan Dowling reported on the incident for The Guardian.

In December, Paul told Associated Press reporter Manuel Valdes that he wanted to stay at sea. He contends that the Costa Rican government was pressured by Japan to seek his extradition.

“I want to stay in the ocean. I’m not going to be able to do that from some holding cell in Japan,” Watson, who now has no passport, was quoted as saying.

On Dec. 13, the U.S. State Department issued a joint statement with the governments of Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand calling for vessels in the Southern Ocean to observe international collision-avoidance rules:

“We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among protestors, many of whom are nationals of our countries, and whaling crews…

“We remain resolute in our opposition to commercial whaling, including so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission, and are disappointed about the recent departure of the Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean.”

In a written commentary, Watson actually seemed encouraged by the joint statement:

“We at Sea Shepherd have no problem with this. We haven’t sustained any serious injury nor have we caused any injury at sea in 33 years and certainly not in the last six voyages to the Southern Ocean.

“What the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes, however, is the fact that the statement issued by the four nations clearly condemns the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. This statement validates and encourages Sea Shepherd intervention during Operation No Compromise this year.”

But Sea Shepherd faced a new turn of events on Dec. 17, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Sea Shepherd — and Paul Watson specifically — from “physically attacking” the Japanese whaling fleet or from “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel.”

The order (PDF 37 kb) prohibits Sea Shepherd from getting any closer than 500 yards to the Japanese ships. The injunction will remain in effect until a final ruling is issued by the U.S. District Court, which could come about the end of this year.

A well-written analysis of the hearing before the Court of Appeals was provided by June Williams of Courthouse News Service. An audio recording of the lively hearing is available from the Ninth Circuit’s website.

“It looks like the Japanese whaling fleet is ready to rumble,” Watson responded in a written commentary issued the same day the injunction was announced. He continued:

“It is a complex situation whereby a United States court is issuing an injunction against Dutch and Australian vessels carrying an international crew, operating out of Australia and New Zealand in international waters and the waters of the Australian Antarctic Economic Zone. In addition, the court has ignored the fact that the Japanese whalers are in contempt of a court order by the Australian Federal Court and the whaling takes place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“We will defend these whales as we have for the last eight years – non-violently and legally.”

So now the stage is set for another confrontation in the Southern Ocean. As the whaling season goes on, we’ll get the usual conflicting news releases from Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whalers. But how the events are portrayed on the television program “Whale Wars” may be influenced by a change in film crew.

whale wars

Before the ships’ departure, Sea Shepherd advertised for its own film crew to replace an independent crew previously used by Animal Planet. Officials with the network confirmed to me that they do not have a film crew on board at this time.

Blogger Michael Destries reported that Sea Shepherd officials hired their own crew to provide “greater flexibility for distribution purposes.”

How this will play out for the show “Whale Wars” is yet to be seen, but Sea Shepherd apparently intends to provide footage to the show’s producers.

Animal Planet spokesman Brian Eley told me that the network plans to air a sixth season of “Whale Wars,” but the two parties are still working out some critical details. Animal Planet owns the name “Whale Wars,” the show’s format and everything that goes with it.

The program is important to both organizations. “Whale Wars” helped transform Animal Planet from a children’s channel to an adult network, and the program has served the goals of Sea Shepherd almost beyond belief.

Brian said it is important to Animal Planet to maintain editorial control over “Whale Wars” with a documentary format and a “neutral point of view.”

“Every year, there are certain things that they (Sea Shepherd officials) disagree with over how we portray them,” he said. “But we have a good relationship with them, and I think people like the show the way it is.”

Brian did not seem to think it was too late to get an independent film crew on board, which would be the preference of Animal Planet executives.

He concurred that this was a “banner year for legality” facing Sea Shepherd, but Animal Planet is not caught up in that drama. The network has been careful to simply document the group’s activities, he said, not influence what the group does or does not do.