The controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has kicked off its 11th Antarctic whale defense campaign with two Sea Shepherd vessels now on their way to the Southern Ocean to intercept the Japanese whaling fleet.
The two vessels, the Steve Irwin and the new Ocean Warrior, departed over the weekend from Melbourne and Hobart, respectively. The vessels are headed for the Southern Ocean to confront the Japanese whaling fleet, which departed last month.
According to Sea Shepherd, this year the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, which conducts the nation’s whale hunts, intends to hunt a quota of 333 Minke whales. Despite overwhelming criticism, the program skirts an international moratorium on commercial whaling by hunting whales under a loophole that allows it for scientific research purposes.
The complicated fight between Sea Shepherd and Japan’s whaling fleet has played out from the Southern Ocean to international court rooms. Japan’s so-called “scientific research” program has been rejected by the International Court of Justice, the International Whaling Commission and the Australian Federal Court. In Seattle in August, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku, working with the Institute in the hunts, signed a mediation agreement with Sea Shepherd and founder Paul Watson prohibiting them from “physically attacking” Japan’s whaling vessels or crew, or approaching closer than 500 yards to the vessels on the high seas. The U.S. court settlement however is expected to have no affect on Sea Shepherd’s operations in the South Ocean since the campaign is headed by Sea Shepherd Australia, a separate entity dedicated to upholding Australian law.
In an earlier ruling in February 2013, a U.S. appeals court in Washington ruled against Sea Shepherd, calling their often-violent high seas clashes with the Japanese fleet nothing more than acts of piracy.
This year Sea Shepherd has is best weapon yet for chasing the whaling fleet around the vast Southern Ocean for months at a time; the new high speed patrol ship Ocean Warrior. Sea Shepherd has described the vessel as a “game-changer” and “fast enough to outrun any whaling ship and equipped with a powerful water cannon.” Sea Shepherd commissioned the construction of the ship at Damen Shipyards after winning over 8 million euros in the Postcode Lottery to build its dream ship.
“With all of the hectic preparations behind us, it’s good to finally be on our way to the Southern Ocean,” said Captain Adam Meyerson from the bridge of the Ocean Warrior.
Sea Shepherd says it expects Japan to hunt whales from December until March, so their vessels are equipped to stay at sea and protect the whales throughout the season. The two Sea Shepherd vessels are carrying a total of 50 crew members from eight different countries: Australia, Germany, France, UK, Austria, Spain, Canada and the United States.