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Sea Shepherd Catches Japanese Whaling Fleet With Dead Minkes Inside Ocean Sanctuary

Conservation group urges Australia to take action, monitor Japan's "scientific research"

The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd says it located a Japanese whaling fleet inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary on Sunday and has recorded evidence that the fleet has already slaughtered at least four whales. The group is now urging Australia to take action against the incident.

Bloody deck of whaling shipPhotos by Tim Watters/Sea Shepherd AustraliaThe bloodied deck of the Nisshin Maru.Though commercial whaling is banned by the International Whaling Commission, Japan continues to hunt whales claiming it's for "scientific research."

Commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the sanctuary, but Japan claims that it is capturing the animals for “scientific research.” However, the Japanese fleet of five ships included a well-known factory ship, the Nisshin Maru.

Sea Shepherd has released video footage and photographs showing the bodies of three minke whales, a protected species, on board the Nisshin Maru, “in New Zealand’s sovereign waters in the Ross Dependency Antarctic region, and inside the internationally recognized Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.” It says a fourth whale, also thought to be a minke, “was being butchered on the bloodstained deck,” when a Sea Shepherd helicopter flew over the ship.

“The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary has been tainted by the illegal slaughter of these beautiful and majestic Minke Whales by the ruthless, violent and barbaric actions of the Japanese whale poachers,” Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said in a statement yesterday.

Three ships belonging to the conservation group – The Steve Irwin, The Bob Barker and The Sam Simon – are now in hot pursuit of the Japanese fleet in an effort to disrupt the whaling operation.

The faceoff between the anti-whaling activists and the Japanese fleet is part of what’s now become an annual ritual in the Southern Ocean during the whaling season when Japanese vessels head there to kill up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales under the guise of scientific research.

dead minke whales The bodies of three minke whales, a protected species, on board the Nisshin Maru.

Though commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission back in 1986, Japan and two other countries – Norway and Iceland – have refused to end their whaling operations. Japan catches the animals in the Southern Ocean under a "scientific research" loophole in the moratorium on whaling, but it’s widely known that the “research” claim is just a cover for commercial whaling.

This is Sea Shepherd’s tenth Antarctic Defence Campaign – “Operation Relentless” – aimed at disrupting and shutting down Japan’s whaling operations in the Antarctic.

“When ‘science’ requires you to grotesquely bloat up the bodies of protected whales, stroll across a deck smeared with their blood, hauling their body parts with hooks and chains, and discarding their remains over the side, then that ‘science’ has no place in the 21st Century,” says Sid Chakravarty, captain of The Steve Irwin. “Sea Shepherd will remain relentless in driving these fake, desperate and subverting ‘scientists’ back to Tokyo."

Sea Shepherd is now calling on the Australian government to intervene and send a ship to monitor the Japanese vessels.

Australia had ruled Japan's hunt illegal in 2008 and had issued an injunction against it, but anti-whaling activists say the Australian government has done little since then to enforce the ruling.

Australia and New Zealand also challenged the legality of Japan’s whaling activity in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the International Court of Justice in The Hague last year and are awaiting judgment on the case.

Peter Hammarstedt, captain of Bob Barker, said Japan had shown "flagrant disregard for international law by continuing their illegal whale hunt” while a decision was still pending from the International Court of Justice". He said the Japanese government’s “attempt the skirt the legal process” was “an insult to the cooperation demonstrated by people around the world, dedicated to enacting conservation laws out of a shared recognition for the need for environmental protection.”

Meanwhile, Japanese officials are saying that they were unaware of the existence of whale sanctuary in the region and that Japan’s whaling program is keeping with the research plan that it has given the International Whaling Commission.

Here's some footage of the whaling ships that Sea Shepherd captured.

Maureen Nandini Mitra, Managing Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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