Did Sea Shepherd harassment put Japanese whaling on hold?

Mike Schuler
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February 16, 2011

According to a report in the Japan Real Time Report blog, Japanese Whale hunting in the Southern Ocean have been on hold since February 10 due to Sea Shepherds harassment. Here’s the story by journalist Yoree Koh;

Japanese whalers may cut out from Antarctic waters early and head home as the annual expedition continues to be dogged with confrontations from environmentalists.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency said that Japanese whalers have suspended their operations since Feb. 10, pointing to harassment from the anti-whaling environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

“The Sea Shepherd boats have been chasing the Nisshin Maru very closely and continuously,” said Fisheries Agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku. “We must firstly think about the safety of the (Nisshin Maru) crew.”

Mr. Nakaoku said the Nisshin Maru is taking a break from the hunt while it assesses the conditions. While this would not be the first time for a whaling trip to be cut short, it would be unusual for the fleet to turn back early citing aggravation from the militant environmental group, now in its seventh maritime campaign against Japanese whalers. The whaling season typically runs until mid-March. Mr. Nakaoku emphasized that the decision to stop the hunt has not been made and declined to specify how long the suspension will last. The last time a whaling ship returned home early was in 2007 when one of the ships caught fire following an encounter with the conservation group, according to Mr. Nakaoku.

It has been an especially tense season for the Japanese whalers, who have been fending off confrontations from the activists since the start of the year. Sea Shepherd environmentalists lobbed stink bombs and other objects at ships in early January. Paul Watson, the head of the U.S.-based group and the captain of one of the boats pursuing the whalers, said the group most recently hurled 25 meters of rotten butter and more stink bombs onto the decks of the whaling fleet on Feb. 9, the day before Japan suspended operations.

“Oh yeah I think you can very well say this is a victory,” Mr. Watson told JRT by telephone from the Steve Irwin boat in the Antarctic over the potential early end to the hunt. “This is our best year yet. Every year we come down stronger and every year the whaling fleet comes down weaker.” The Sea Shepherd added a high-speed boat to its fleet this year, making it easier to track and disrupt the whalers’ ability to hunt. Japan has returned in recent years without fulfilling its catch quota due to increasing harassment from the campaigners.  Continue reading

While the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society did confirm on their website that they did in fact strong arm the whalers out of the whaling ground, this report from the New Zealand Herald is saying the whole thing is a bluff:

Activists who have led the fight against Japan’s whaling operations in the Southern Ocean say reports of the annual whale hunt being suspended are a bluff.

Regular attempts by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to interrupt hunts have caused irritation in Japan.

“Putting safety as a priority, the fleet has halted scientific whaling for now,” said Tatsuya Nakaoku, an official at the Fisheries Agency.

“We find Sea Shepherd’s harassment extremely regrettable.”

But Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said he was suspicious about the true movements of the Japanese.

Whaling boat the Nishin Maru was in the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica and could be returning to the Southern Ocean via the Indian Ocean, he told Radio New Zealand.

“I believe that they might be trying to head across the South Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean to come on the other side of their whaling grounds to start again and then they’ll send their harpoon vessels west.” Continue reading

Just who is telling the truth?  We’ll have to see…

Photo: The Yushin Maru No. 3 and the Nisshin Maru flee from the Bob Barker (photos by Sam Sielen)

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