Sea Shepherd finds Japanese whaling fleet before any kills are made

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will ring in the new year trying to prevent Japanese whalers from killing cetaceans.

The activist group located two harpoon vessels on Friday, or New Year’s Eve, in the Southern Ocean about 1,700 miles southeast of New Zealand. It is pursuing both boats and will deploy harassment techniques in an attempt to prevent what it claims is the illegal poaching of intelligent creatures.

In a news release issued Friday, Sea Shepherd stated that for the first time in seven campaigns it had found the fleet before a single whale was killed, and described the discovery as “a momentous victory for the whales and precisely how Sea Shepherd’s President and Founder Captain Paul Watson had hoped to ring in the new year.”

Crew members aboard the Bob Barker and Steve Irwin spotted the harpoon vessels (one of them is pictured at top right) in different areas in icy Antarctic waters. The factory processing ship Nisshin Maru has not yet been found.

Japan conducts whaling missions annually in the Southern Ocean despite a ban on commercial whaling, imposed in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission. It targets an annual quota of more than 900 minke whales and uses a “lethal research” loophole in the wording of the ban to justify its hunts.

Whale meat from the hunts is sold commercially throughout Japan, though demand reportedly has been shrinking and stockpiles of frozen whale meat are increasing.

The IWC long ago designated the region in which most whaling takes place as the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, but Japan does not recognize the designation.

Japan has fallen under growing pressure recently to curtail or end the hunts.

The confrontations, meanwhile, have become increasingly tense and last year a Sea Shepherd boat had to be scuttled after a collision with a whaling ship. Earlier this month the governments of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands issued a joint statement condemning, in advance, any actions from either side “that imperil human life.”

This is the fourth season an Animal Planet film crew is with Sea Shepherd chronicling events for its popular “Whale Wars” series.

Sea Shepherd stated in the news release that it has deployed its new high-speed interceptor boat, Gojira and a helicopter to try to find the Nisshin Maru.

Capt. Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd’s founder and a controversial figure, said his group was able to find the whalers despite the vastness of the region by scattering his fleet of three boats at the start of the journey from New Zealand.

— Images of the Japanese harpoon vessel
Yushin Maru #2 (top) and Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker are courtesy of Barbara Veiga / Sea Shepherd