Sea Shepherd has stopped sending ships against the Japanese whaling fleet

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

Sea Shepherd, the international environmental activist group, won’t be sending ships to follow the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean this year.

The 12-year mission of harassment against whaling in Antarctic waters, launched each year from Australian ports, has been stopped because Japan is using “military surveillance to watch Sea Shepherd ship movements in real time by satellite”.

However, Sea Shepherd says the campaign hasn’t been a failure. More than 6,000 whales were saved, not one Humpback killed and only 10 endangered Fin whales killed in a decade.

Sea Shepherd uses the human shield method of activism, placing ships and crew between the whales and the Japanese harpoon ships. Over the campaign this has led to collisions and damaged ships.

“The Japanese whalers have been exposed, humiliated and most importantly have been denied thousands of lives that we have spared from their deadly harpoons,” says Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.

“Thousands of whales are now swimming and reproducing, that would now be dead if not for our interventions.”

Sea Shepherd’s ship, The Steve Irwin, leaves Melbourne last summer. Image: Supplied

Watson says Sea Shepherd is not abandoning the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary but says the environment group can’t compete with military grade technology.

“We need to cultivate the resources, the tactics and the ability to significantly shut down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet,” he says.

“In the meantime, it’s time for the Australian government to live up to their promises. Sea Shepherd has been down in the Southern Ocean doing what the Australian government has the responsibility to do but have refused to do, and that is upholding international and Australian conservation law.

“Instead of supporting Sea Shepherd the Australian government has been supporting the Japanese whalers by harassing Sea Shepherd and obstructing Sea Shepherd’s ability to raise funds by denying our charitable status.”

The Japanese whaling fleet has returned to the Southern Ocean to harpoon minke whales twice since an International Court of Justice ruling in 2014 that such activities contravened the rules of the International Whaling Commission.

The International Court of Justice determined that the whaling program could not be called “scientific” and that Japan has breached its obligations under the international convention for the regulation of whaling.

“This year Japan escalated their resistance with the passing of new anti-terrorism laws, some of which are specifically designed to condemn Sea Shepherd tactics,” says Watson.

“For the first time ever, they have stated they may send their military to defend their illegal whaling activities.

“The decision we have had to face is: do we spend our limited resources on another campaign to the Southern Ocean that will have little chance of a successful intervention OR do we regroup with different strategies and tactics?

“If something is not working the only recourse is to look for a better plan, because when a plan no longer works, the only alternative is an improved course of action.

“We need to formulate this new plan and we will.”

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