A controversial animal-rights group preparing to embark on its annual harassment campaign against Japanese whalers has stepped up its effort this season by enlisting the aid of … Godzilla.
The swift and ominous-looking interceptor vessel has the moniker Gojira, named after the ferocious monster in the legendary Japanese film, which in English means Godzilla.
The 115-foot boat was launched by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Monday in Fremantle, Australia, and has joined the larger vessels, Steve Irwin and Bob Barker, in Hobart. At midweek all three will begin their journey to Antarctic waters, where their crews will await the arrival of the Japanese whaling fleet.
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These seasonal confrontations in the remote Southern Ocean have become increasingly tense, with occasional collisions underscoring the danger and controversial nature of some methods employed by Sea Shepherd, which has been criticized for risking human lives in its effort to save minke whales, which are not an endangered species.
Last season Sea Shepherd scuttled its interceptor vessel, the Ady Gil, after claiming it had been rammed and irreparably damaged by a whaling vessel. New Zealand investigators found both crews to have been at fault.
Japan annually targets about 900 whales — mostly minkes but also a handful of endangered fin whales — during a three-month season that generally begins in early December.
Japan gets around a longstanding International Whaling Commission ban against commercial whaling by using a “research” loophole and designating the hunts — which are considered an important part of Japanese culture and tradition — scientific missions.
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However, pressure to persuade the country to curtail whaling is mounting. The IWC last spring submitted a proposal calling for Japan to reduce its quota to about 200 over a 10-year period. Australia has used an international court to try to halt whaling in the Antarctic, where killing occurs within a designated whale sanctuary.
Last season the Japanese fleet killed 506 minke whales and one fin whale. Officials with Japan’s Fisheries Agency and the Institute of Cetacean Research regard Sea Shepherd as an eco-terrorist organization that has successfully obstructed hunting. Though the whaling effort is termed scientific, whale meat is sold commercially throughout Japan.
Gojira, which can easily out-run the larger Japanese vessels, will be used to help locate the factory ship, which processes whales killed by crews aboard harpoon boats; to try to thwart harpooning, and to prevent delivery of harpooned whales to the factory ship.
“The factory ship is the one we’re after and if we can find it, we can shut down whaling,” Sea Shepherd spokesman Jeff Hansen told reporters in Australia. “We can save 10 to 12 whales a day by blocking the slipway on the factory ship, so really this vessel is going to play a huge part in shutting down the Japanese whaling fleet for the entire summer.”
This will be Sea Shepherd’s seventh campaign against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic during the Southern Hemisphere summer, and the fourth season with an Animal Planet crew aboard, filming for its popular “Whale Wars” series.
— Top two images of Gojira are courtesy of Alexis Bachofen Â© Eye in the Sky magazine, via Sea Shepherd. Bottom image of the Ady Gil, disabled during the 2009-10 whaling season, is courtesy of JoAnne McArthur / Sea Shepherd.