Sea Shepherd Activists Halt Pursuit of Japanese Whalers

Sea Shepherd says its investigations and documentation have helped save thousands of whales over the years it patrolled the sanctuary. Its annual operation began with one ship and grew to a fleet of five.


The Steve Irwin, Sea Shepherd’s flagship vessel, moored in Hong Kong’s waters in 2016. Credit Alex Hofford/European Pressphoto Agency

In 2014, Japan’s Antarctic whaling was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice. That brought a halt to a program that, in the name of research, had left thousands of minke, humpback and fin whales dead over 26 years. Japan revived the whaling in 2015 under a new program with a self-imposed quota, though it has been condemned by scientists.

Mr. Watson said his small fleet could not compete with the government-backed whaling ships, but resources are only part of the problem for Sea Shepherd. The passage of antiterrorism laws, “some of which are specifically designed to condemn Sea Shepherd tactics,” further threaten operations, Mr. Watson said.

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, which carries out the whaling operations, says on its website that Sea Shepherd’s actions in the South Ocean amount to “terrorism and threaten human life at sea.”

The institute said Sea Shepherd methods included “illegal boarding and ramming of research vessels” and “increasingly dangerous and violent sabotage methods which include entangling devices (propeller foulers), throwing and shooting of chemical-containing projectiles, smoke bombs and incendiary devices.”

Videos recorded by Sea Shepherd show Japanese vessels ramming its ships.

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