The Whale Hunt: Sea Shepherd vessels are on their way to intercept the Japanese whaling fleet

The Steve Irwin leaves Melbourne. Image: Supplied

The waters of the Southern Ocean will be turned into a conservation battleground this summer with a key activist group, Sea Shepherd, sending two ships to intercept a Japanese whaling fleet.

The marine conservation group’s flagship, the Steve Irwin, departed Melbourne on Saturday and its fast new patrol vessel, the Ocean Warrior, left from Hobart on Sunday.

The two Sea Shepherd ships are carrying a total of 50 crew members from eight different countries: Australia, Germany, France, UK, Austria, Spain, Canada and the US.

The Japanese whaling fleet left Japan on November 18 with a self-allocated quota of 333 Minke whales. What Japan calls “research whaling” will be conducted by four ships, including the 8,145-tonne mother ship Nisshin Maru, with a total crew of 185.

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.

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.

The whalers operated unhindered because Sea Shepherd was handicapped by Japan’s strategy of expanding the area of operations and reducing their quota.

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

This meant that the time to locate them within the expanded zone made intervention extremely difficult with the ships Sea Shepherd had then.

However, this season the activists have the the Ocean Warrior which, Sea Shepherd says, has the speed and range to find and pursue the whaling fleet.

“With all of the hectic preparations behind us, it’s good to finally be on our way to the Southern Ocean,” says Captain Adam Meyerson from the Ocean Warrior.

This is Sea Shepherd’s 11th anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean, Operation Nemesis.

“The crew has worked really hard to get the ship ready and everybody is super excited to be on our way,” says Steve Irwin’s Captain Wyanda Lublink.

“They are very much looking forward to getting down towards the Antarctic and being able to experience firsthand the stunning beauty of this part of the world. A place where illegal whaling vessels from the other side of the world do not belong.”

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