Sea Shepherd claims victory over Antarctic whalers

UPDATE: March 16

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.
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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:

Dec. 7: The Japanese whaling fleet, consisting of three ships, sail from the port of Shimonoseki toward the Southern Ocean.

Dec. 24: The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin locates the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru using a drone — a small unmanned airplane added this year to the Sea Shepherd fleet. The remotely operated drone carries cameras and detection equipment. Named the Nicole Montecalvo, the drone was donated by Bayshore Recycling of New Jersey.

Dec. 28: The Sea Shepherd’s Scout Ship Brigiitte Bardot is struck by a rogue wave, which cracked the hull and damaged one of the pontoons. The ship with its crew of 10 was following the Nisshin Maru in six-meter swells when the incident occurred. The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker continues to follow the Nisshin Maru, while the Steve Irwin heads to assist the Brigitte Bardot, about 20 hours away.

Jan. 4: The Bob Barker encounters the Yushin Maru 3 about 190 miles north of the French Antarctic base of Dumont D’Urville. The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research reported that two inflatable boats cross the bow of the Japanese ship about 30 times in attempts to foul its propeller with ropes. Meanwhile, Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot are heading toward Fremantle, Australia, for repairs and refueling. They are tailed by the Shonan Maru #2.

Jan. 7: Three Australian members of the group Forest Rescue come by boat from shore and approach the Shonan Maru 2, which is tailing the Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot off the West Coast of Australia. Under the cover of darkness, the three men work their way past razor wire, cross over the rails and board the Japanese vessel. A statement by Forest Rescue says the action is a protest against the Australian government, which failed to carry through on an election promise to stop the whaling in the Southern Ocean. The men were taken into custody aboard the Japanese boat. About a week later, they were transferred to the Australian Customs Vessel Ocean Protector, which returned them to Albany, Western Australia.

Jan. 11: The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research reports that two inflatable boats from Sea Shepherd approach the Yushin Maru 2 and the crews release prop-fouling ropes while tossing at least 20 bottles containing either butyric acid or paint. Seven bottles hit the ship.

Jan. 18: The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research reports that two pontoon boats from the Steve Irwin attack the Yushin Maru 2, deploying six prop-fouling ropes and tossing at least 30 bottles of paint. The Japanese group also reports that Sea Shepherd crew members use a knife to cut intruder-prevention float fenders. Yushin Maru crew members use bamboo poles to push the boats back. Sea Shepherd reports that one of its crew members is cut when struck in the face with a bamboo pole. Two cameramen for Animal Planet get hit in the shoulders by grappling hooks thrown from the Yushin.

Jan. 21: The ICR reports that the Yushin Maru 2 is attacked by two Sea Shepherd inflatables. Sea Shepherd crew members use a launcher to shoot at least 20 bottles filled with butyric acid or paint. Some strike the Yushin.

Feb. 7: In an effort to slow down the Yushin Maru 2 and allow the Steve Irwin to gain some distance, Sea Shepherd deploys three inflatable boats and a jet ski. The crew member on the jet ski is knocked into the water with a water cannon fried from the Japanese ship. Nearly frozen, the man swims back to his jet ski and returns to the Steve Irwin.

Feb. 11: The ICR reports that two inflatables from Sea Shepherd triy to deploy a prop-fouling rope on the Yushin Maru 2. Crew members of the Yushin Maru 2 tow their own rope with warning buoys, saying the goal is to keep the Sea Shepherd boats back. Sea Shepherd crews cut the ropes.

Feb. 12: The ICR reports another similar attack involving Yushin Maru 2 and inflatables using prop-foulers, smoke bombs and bottles of butyric acid.

Feb. 13: The ICR reports another similar incident, this time involving the Yushin Maru 3 and three inflatables.

Feb. 13-16: Sea Shepherd reports that it has plowed through pack ice to lose the Yushin Maru 3 and try to catch up to the factory ship Nisshin Maru.

Feb. 23: The Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker returns to sea from Wellington, New Zealand, where it has gone for refueling. Sea Shepherd announces that the Bob Barker would return with enough fuel to allow the Steve Irwin to complete the campaign over the next two months.

Feb. 28: Sea Shepherd reports that their ruse over the past 10 days has worked against the Japanese whalers. The two Japanese vessels, a harpoon ship, Yushin Maru 3, and security ship, Shonan Maru 2, have been following the Steve Irwin all the way to Aukland Island, New Zealand, where the refueling was scheduled. But the Bob Barker never intended to make the rendezvous; it headed straight back to the Southern Ocean.

“The Japanese ships fell for the bait, following hard on our heels first to Macquarie Island and then onto Auckland Island,” said Watson. “They have wasted tons of fuel and weeks of time to accomplish nothing more than to escort the Steve Irwin back north. Now they have no one to follow anymore, and the Bob Barker is free to continue the chase.”

March 5: The Bob Barker catches up to the factory ship Nisshin Maru and its three harpoon ships, including the Yushin Maru 3, which has just arrived after leaving the Steve Irwin. Sea Shepherd reports that whaling activities cease when the Nisshin Maru starts running away near Commonwealth Bay, 60 miles off the Antarctic Coast.

Paul Watson issues this quote:

“This has been a long and tough campaign, with the worst weather and ice conditions that we have experienced in the entire eight seasons we have ventured into the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. But despite the temporary loss of our scout ship, the Brigitte Bardot, and our constant dogged pursuit of the Nisshin Maru, we have kept them on the run, taken two of their three harpoon vessels off the hunt for two months, severely crippled their killing capabilities and now once again we have shut them down 100 percent. Operation Divine Wind has been enormously successful.”

Night of March 5: Sea Shepherd reports that, as darkness falls, the two harpoon vessels Yushin Maru 2 and Yushin Maru 3 head straight for the Bob Barker, under command of Swedish captain Peter Hammarstedt. The report says:

“Darkness was rapidly closing in and snow was beginning to fall, when, in a desperate move to throw the Bob Barker off the back of the Nisshin Maru, the two harpoon vessels began passing dangerously across the bow of the Bob Barker dragging 300-meter-long, thick cables to foul the prop of the Bob Barker.

“The harpoon ships trained their spotlights on the bridge of the Bob Barker, in an effort to blind the crew but backed off when the Bob Barker crew retaliated with lasers. Flares were fired and angry radio messages exchanged in Japanese and English.”

“The Yushins, much faster and more maneuverable than the Bob Barker, harried the Sea Shepherd crew at close quarters for hours in their effort to prevent the Bob Barker from pursuing the Nisshin Maru.

“Captain Peter Hammarstedt, 27, a veteran of numerous Sea Shepherd campaigns, deftly avoided the fouling lines as he kept the pressure on the Nisshin Maru.

“There were no injuries on any of the ships involved, and the Bob Barker continues to pursue the Nisshin Maru, having totally disrupted their illegal whaling activities.”

A report of the incident by the Institute of Cetacean Research says the Japanese vessels “encountered a Sea Shepherd ship the Bob Barker when they were moving after having ended another day of research activities.” The report characterized it as an attack from the Bob Barker. The stern rope — with its “keep-your-distance” warning buoy — was designed to keep the Bob Barker from approaching the Nisshan Maru, the report says.

March 8: Sea Shepherd reports that whaling season is over:

“Since March 1st, the Bob Barker has followed the Nisshin Maru as they headed steadily northwestward. The Japanese harpoon vessels have stopped tailing the Bob Barker. The fleet has left the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, according to Captain Peter Hammarstedt. The Japanese government security vessel, Shonan Maru #2, has been spotted by fishing vessels at thirty degrees South, which is due east of Brisbane, Australia, indicating that the vessel is well on its way back to Japan.”

Watson predicts that when the number of dead whales are totalled, it will show that the fleet fell short of even half its goal, possibly only 30 percent of the government quota.

The Bob Barker will return to Hobart, Tasmania; the Brigitte Bardot is completing repairs in Fremantle; and the Steve Irwin is now berthed in Williamstown.

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