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.”
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
“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”
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
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.
The Japanese whaling fleet killed 266 Antarctic minke whales
this year, compared to a government quota of 850, plus one fin
whale, compared to a quota of 50, according to Michihiko Kano,
Japan’s minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The Mainichi Daily News, based in Japan, reports that the low
numbers were attributed to bad weather but noted that Sea Shepherd
obstructed the whaling operations 11 times during the season.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has completed another year of
battling Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic, and again this
year a camera crew was on board its ships to film a new season of
“Whale Wars.” The new season of the TV show will begin in June.
The Japanese whaling vessel Yushin
Maru 2 shoots its water cannons at a Sea Shepherd inflatable, which
had approached it.
Photo by Billy Danger, Sea Shepherd
The Japanese government reportedly provided $30 million from its
tsunami and earthquake relief fund to continue the whaling, which
the government allows as “scientific research.” The ban on whaling
includes an exemption for research, but the International Whaling
Commission has failed to preclude the commercial sale of meat from
“research” animals. The result has been an ongoing dispute about
whether commercial whaling should be considered research.
Needless to say, Sea Shepherd does not consider it research. For
the past eight years, the whale-advocacy group has followed the
whaling fleet and disrupted the hunt whenever possible.
For much of the recent whaling season, which began in December,
Sea Shepherd was able to divert the attention of two harpoon ships
and a security vessel. Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said the
whalers ignored their own protocols this year by going to the same
area as last year:
“This illustrates that they really have no scientific agenda at
all since their so-called survey requires them to ‘sample’ whales
from the two different areas alternatively each year. This is not
about science and it never has been. It’s not even about profit
anymore because we have negated their profits. It’s simply about
pride. Whaling in the Southern Ocean has become a heavily
subsidized welfare project for an archaic industry that has no
place in the twenty-first century.”
The following chronology was compiled from reports issued by Sea
Shepherd and by the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research: (more…)
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.
Following recent news that Japanese whalers have called off
their Antarctic hunt for the remainder of this season, Stephen
Colbert wags his finger at the “environmentalist blubber huggers”
who caused the “research” to be cut short.
“Without this research,” Colbert says, “how will Japanese
scientists know what teriyaki blow hole tastes like?”
If this situation continues, Colbert worries that whales will
take over the world and give us a new “Pledge of Allegiance,” which
he previews in the following video.
The following clip includes other “wags.” To get to the bit
about whales, advance to 4:34 on the timeline.
Unbridled joy has overtaken crews on three Sea Shepherd vessels
as they celebrate a Japanese surrender from whaling in the
Antarctic this year — and possibly for all time.
“Everybody is overjoyed, laughing and crying and hugging,” said
Izumi Stephens, who is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, one of the
three vessels harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern
I spoke to Izumi by satellite phone after the Japanese
government announced an end to whaling a month early this year.
(See story by Martin Fackler in the
New York Times Global Edition.) Japanese analysts are now
speculating that whaling in the Southern Ocean may never resume,
because of the costs, challenges and changes in the market for
“We think the entire thing could be finishing,” Izumi said of
Antarctic whaling efforts. “This may be the last year in the
Southern Ocean for everybody.”
Check out recent stories in the Japanese news organization
Yomiuri Online, one of which includes this statement:
“In addition to Sea Shepherd’s acts of sabotage, low domestic
demand for whale meat — which used to be a valuable source of
protein during the food-scarce postwar years — also has made the
prospect of continuing whaling extremely gloomy, officials
Izumi, if you recall, is a Japanese woman who lives on
Bainbridge Island. After her husband died, she became committed to
opposing the killing of dolphins and whales. She joined Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society in November as a Japanese-language
translator and has spent the past three months involved in the
high-seas campaign against the Japanese whalers. See Water Ways for
Jan. 14 and
The so-called surrender has become big news in Japan, and Izumi
has taken calls from Japanese reporters and conversed in her native
“I’ve told them that this is a big, big victory, a big victory
for the whales. We are not against the Japanese people or the
Japanese government. We are against the whalers…. We are not
terrorists; we are just intervening against the commercial
Through the Internet, Izumi has been keeping up with numerous
Japanese news reports and blogs, where she has found herself under
“People in Japan are mad at me. They call me a traitor to my
Izumi is the first Japanese translator for Sea Shepherd to make
her identity known to the public. During taping for the television
show “Whale Wars,” she has not covered her face or kept her name
secret, as previous Japanese translators have done. The revalation
of a possible end to whaling in the Antarctic has raised her
profile more than she anticipated.
“I never expected that it would be like this final end,” she
She had imagined that the whaling season would end, as usual, in
March and she would return home to her family. Then she would have
all summer to decide if she should do it again. Instead, the
“Japanese surrender” a month early — with uncertain prospects for
the future — has created a media blitz and new level of anger in
“I can see in the newspapers that people are really mad,” she
said. “My face is coming up on Japanese TV.”
The Japanese whaling organization, known as the Institute of
Cetacean Research, consistently calls Sea Shepherd an eco-terrorist
organization. The group regularly complains that Sea Shepherd’s
flagship countries, Australia and the Netherlands, fail to take
action for acts of “terrorism and harassment,” including
bombardment with glass projectiles, smoke bombs and “incendiary
devices.” The latest reports talked about the use of lasers aimed
at the whaling ships. See ICR new releases.
According to the report in Daily
Yomiuri Online, the processing ship Nisshin Maru was unable to
shake off the faster Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and
Capt. Paul Watson, who directs Sea Shepherd, said the ability of
his ships to stay with the whaling fleet made all the difference in
this year’s success in minimizing the number of whales killed.
Scroll down to the bottom of this entry to view the on-board video
that Watson issued Saturday.
Yomiuri story quoted anonymously a high-ranking ministry
official, who outlined four options for continued whaling:
Have the whaling fleet escorted by Japan Coast Guard vessels or
others, an idea discussed in 2007 but scrapped for lack of escort
Build new whaling vessels capable of traveling at high speed,
an idea considered “almost impossible” because of costs.
Replace research whaling with commercial whaling, an idea that
lacks support from other countries.
Continue current whaling arrangements, which has proven to be
costly and difficult given the interference of Sea Shepherd.
Izumi said none of the options seems likely, but one never
Another issue faced by the Japanese, she told me, is the success
of the television show “Whale Wars,” which has brought notoriety
and donations to the anti-whaling cause. The Japanese government
may be concerned that Sea Shepherd will use its new-found clout to
bring more attention to the decline of blue fin tuna (See Operation Blue Rage)
and to the slaughter of dolphins
in Taiji, Japan, and other places around the world.
For now, Izumi is eager to get home to Bainbridge Island.
“I am really homesick,” she told me. “I want to squeeze my kids
and pet my dogs and maybe take a nice hot shower. Yes, a long
“I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations
including Japan and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers
are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now
indeed a real sanctuary.”
The Steve Irwin is scheduled to meet up with the Bob Barker and
return to Hobart, Australia. Izumi hopes to fly back home to the
Puget Sound region on March 10.
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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
release by the group.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, which speaks for the
Japanese whaling fleet, made no mention of the collision in its
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.
UPDATE, Jan. 1, 2010
The Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin has left Australia. Here’s the
comment from Capt. Paul Watson in a news
“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
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
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
“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
“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: (more…)