How Japan's fleet harpooned 333 whales without hindrance

A Minke whale on the flensing deck of the whale factory ship, Nisshin Maru. Image: Sea Shepherd

The so-called scientific whaling expedition by Japan harpooned 333 minke whales this summer season in the Antarctic without being challenged by activists.

Japan’s fleet of four vessels, including harpoon boats, hunted in the Southern Ocean again despite an international court ruling in 2014 that such missions are unlawful.

Previous campaigns by Sea Shepherd against Japan’s whaling saw collisions at sea, the boarding of a whale factory ship by activists, the sinking of one anti-whaling ship, the throwing of stink bombs and the dropping of propeller-fouling devices.

But this year was different.

The Institute for Cetacean Research, the body behind the Japanese government’s whaling program, says the whalers have returned to Japan with 333 whales, 103 of them males and 230 female with about 90% of those pregnant.

And they encountered no opposition in the Southern Ocean in an area including the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the Australian Whale Sanctuary and the Ross Sea.

Peter Hammarstedt, chair of the Sea Shepherd Australia Board of Directors, says Sea Shepherd was handicapped by Japan’s strategy of expanding the area of operations and reducing their quota.

This means that the time to locate them within the expanded zone made intervention extremely difficult with the ships that Sea Shepherd has.

The whaling area. MAP: Institute for Cetacean Research

“Sea Shepherd felt that this was an opportunity for the world’s government to demonstrate some resolve to uphold international conservation law,” says captain Hammarstedt.

“The Australia and New Zealand governments did nothing and this has served to illustrate that the only thing that has proven effective against the illegal Japanese whaling fleet has been the interventions by Sea Shepherd.

“Sea Shepherd will soon have a fast long-range ship, and more importantly Sea Shepherd has something that the Australian and New Zealand governments lack and that is the courage, the passion and the resolve to uphold the law.”

Last year the Federal Court in Australia ordered the whalers to pay a $1 million fine for illegally killing whales inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

In January more than 30 of the world’s top whale scientists called on Japan to stop its so-called scientific whaling program.

In the correspondence section of the international journal Nature, the experts wrote a letter to the editor under the headline “Japan’s whaling is unscientific”.

Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia Managing Director, says the majority of Australians had wanted the Australian government to send a vessel to oppose the slaughter.

“They did not,” he says.

“Sea Shepherd requested that the Australian government release the location of the whalers. They refused.

“Instead, the governments responsible for protecting these magnificent creatures stood by, in the complete knowledge that both federal and international crimes were taking place.”

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