Sea Shepherd: First photos of Japanese whaling in Australia's whale sanctuary in Antarctic waters

A Minke whale on the deck of a Japanese whaler in Antarctic waters. Image: Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd has tracked down the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic, taking the first photographs of dead whales since an international court decided Japan was breaking the rules.

The factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, was spotted by a helicopter from Sea Shepherd’s flagship the Steve Irwin in an area the activists say is within the Australian Whale Sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.

The Steve Irwin is now on an intercept course with the factory ship.

Australian is deeply disappointed that Japan has decided to return to the Southern Ocean to undertake so-called scientific whaling, says federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg.

“Australia is opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling,” the minister says. “It is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them.”

The Irwin and the fast new patrol vessel, the Ocean Warrior, left Australia in early December to track down the Japanese whaling fleet of four ships, including the 8145-tonne Nisshin Maru, with a total crew of 185.

Japan has a self-allocated quota of 333 Minke whales in an operation its describes as research.

This is the second time the Japanese whaling fleet has returned to the Southern Ocean since an International Court of Justice ruling in 2014 that such activities contravened the rules of the International Whaling Commission.

Last season the whalers harpooned 333 whales, 103 of them males and 230 female with about 90% of those pregnant.

When the helicopter approached on Sunday, Sea Shepherd says the Nisshin Maru crew scrambled to hide a dead whale with a tarp, while the fleet’s harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru #2 covered their harpoons.

A minke whale. Image: Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

“The whale killers from the Nisshin Maru were caught red-handed slaughtering whales in the Australian Whale sanctuary,” says Captain Adam Meyerson of the Ocean Warrior.

“The Steve Irwin has shut down their illegal operations and caught them trying to hide the evidence.”

Sea Shepherd’s discovery comes just a day after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Australia on an official state visit.

According to the ABC, the topic of whaling was discussed.

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia says: “The lack of action by the (Malcolm) Turnbull government while whales are being killed in Australian waters just a day after Japan’s Prime Minister was on a state visit in Australia shows that the government has no spine when it comes to protecting the wishes of Australians to defend the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

Harpoon deck

The harpoon deck, Image: Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

A covered whale

A covered dead whale. Image: Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

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