Sea Shepherd Battles Japanese Whalers in the Ross Sea
ON BOARD THE STEVE IRWIN, February 6, 2009 (ENS) – The Sea Shepherd whale conservation ship Steve Irwin collided with the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No.2 this morning in the Ross Sea after spending five hours Thursday in a battle with the Japanese, who used a sonic weapon, fouling lines and their ships to attack the conservation vessel.
Captain Paul Watson, founder and leader of the international marine mammal conservation organization Sea Shepherd, says the collision occurred as the Japanese harpoon vessel moved in to block the Steve Irwin’s attempt to prevent the transfer of a dead whale up the slipway of the factory ship Nisshin Maru.
“We were in the process of blocking the transfer from the Yushin Maru No.2 when the Yushin Maru No.1 moved directly in front of the bow to block us,” said Watson.
“I could not turn to starboard without hitting the Yushin Maru No.1. I tried to back down but the movement of the Yushin Maru No.2 made the collision unavoidable,” Watson said.
The Yushin Maru No.2 was transferring a second whale killed this morning. “To the Sea Shepherd crew the murder of these defenseless whales is as tragic as if they had lost one of their own,” Watson said.
A second collision happened this afternoon when two of the harpoon vessels ran the Sea Shepherd blockade of the slipway to transfer two dead whales to the factory ship.
“We told them to not continue their illegal whaling operations and that we would be blocking the stern slipway of the factory ship,” said Captain Watson. “They decided to test our resolve and apparently expected us to retreat when they charged in ahead of us to make the transfer.”
Watson said that the Steve Irwin became difficult to control “under a barrage of metal objects, blasts from the water cannons, and the disorientation caused by the LRAD acoustic weapons” from the whalers.
“I was dazed by the sonic blasts being used on us at close range,” said Captain Watson. “I have to admit it was difficult to concentrate with that device being focused on us.”
The Nisshin Maru blasted the crew on the Steve Irwin a sonic weapon called a Long Range Acoustical Device, or LRAD.
A newly developed weapon that blasts earsplitting noise, the LRAD can produce permanent hearing damage and temporarily disrupt vision. Being within 100 yards of the device is extremely painful.
The Japanese say they are conducting legal whaling for scientific purposes with a self-assigned annual quota of more than 900 whales in the Southern Ocean. They maintain that research whaling is legal under the rules of the International Whaling Commission, IWC.
The Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups call the Japanese whaling illegal. “Japanese whaling is violating the Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna and the regulations of the International Whaling Commission,” said Watson.
The harpoon vessels this morning maneuvered closer and closer before the bow of the Steve Irwin to block the Dutch-flagged Sea Shepherd ship from interfering with their whaling operations.
This morning a cameraman from the Sea Shepherd helicopter videotaped the harpooning and shooting of a minke whale.
“The whale took 25 minutes to die after being struck with a harpoon and receiving seven shots from a high powered rifle. The sea was full of blood,” said Watson.
The Steve Irwin is now directly behind the slipway of the Nisshin Maru attempting to block the transfer of the minke whale’s body to the factory ship.
“Seeing the long prolonged agonizing murder of that defenseless whale has made me angry,” said Captain Watson. “Very angry. We are going to make a stand here today to shut this obscenity down. It will be dangerous but we did not come down here to witness the slaughter of whales, we came down to stop the killing.”
“We have a very big disadvantage,” said Watson. “Japan will defend the violence of their mad dog killers. Our governments don’t have the guts and will condemn us for defending ourselves and the whales. Sometimes you just have to say, what the hell and make a stand and that is what we intend to do here today. We intend to make a stand.”
Minoru Morimoto, director-general of the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research said today in Tokyo, “This is the second attempt at fouling the propellers of the Japanese vessels in as many days.”
Accusing the Sea Shepherd crew of “criminal attack,” Morimoto said, “I call on all member nations of the IWC to condemn these acts of violence by Sea Shepherd and for countries to close their ports to the Dutch vessel.”
“The whalers have decided to test our resolve,” said Steve Irwin 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden. “They have escalated this battle to see just how determined we are to protect these whales. We’re shepherds and we will do what we can to protect our flock from these murderous poachers.”
On Thursday, the fifth day that the Steve Irwin had prevented any whaling by the Japanese fleet by keeping them on the run, the frustration of the whalers erupted.
An endangered fin whale was spotted just after noon.
The Steve Irwin launched two fast inflatable boats to head off any attempt to harpoon the whale and launched its helicopter to film the blocking action.
All three Japanese harpoon vessels “attacked the Steve Irwin in dangerous passes to foul the Steve Irwin’s propeller,” Watson said.
One Japanese vessel approached the conservation ship from each side and the third approached from the stern.
“At 1230,” said Watson, “the Nisshin Maru aimed the Long Range Acoustical Device at helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of California and Animal Planet cameraman Ashley Dunn of Tasmania,” who is filming the Sea Shepherd campaign for the TV show “Whale Wars.”
“At first it was just a loud noise,” said Aultman, “then they turned up the volume and we could feel it in our legs and chest.” Aultman took the helicopter out of range of the device but says he was shocked that the Japanese used it.
“It was extremely irresponsible for the whalers to aim that device at the helicopter,” said Watson. “They were doing nothing but filming and presented absolutely no threat to the ships. They demonstrated absolutely no regard for human life.”
At this point, the harpoon vessels turned on their LRAD and aimed it at the small boats and the Steve Irwin. “This sonic attack was followed by the Nisshin Maru turning into the Steve Irwin and attempting to actually ram the Sea Shepherd vessel at full speed,” Watson said.
The Japanese crew shot the small boat crews with high-pressure water hoses.
The small boats retaliated by threatening to foul the props of the harpoon vessel and also with rotten butter bombs.
Steve Roest of the United Kingdom was injured when he became disoriented and dizzy under the LRAD blasts and was knocked down, cutting open his head. Ship’s doctor David Miller, M.D. from Australia sutured the wound.
The whalers jammed the Steve Irwin’s radios and navigational instruments and kept a steady bombardment of the Sea Shepherd crew with the LRADs. Captain Watson spent four hours undertaking zigzag and circular maneuvers to avoid the prop fouling.
“The attacks by the three ships became so aggressive we had to fire flares and speed lines over their head to force them to back off,” Watson said.
The Steve Irwin retrieved both small boats and the helicopter by going in tight circles with the three harpoon vessels circling on the outside blasting the crew with LRADs and towing fouling lines, Watson said.
“It was very worrying for us,” said 1st Officer Hammarstedt. “Our helicopter was almost out of fuel and the whalers were forcing us to keep avoiding them making it difficult for the helicopter to land.”
At 1700 hours, the harpoon boats backed off and the Steve Irwin resumed the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru, heading due South deep into the Ross Sea.
Watson’s strategy is to keep the whaling fleet on the run so they cannot kill whales. He says the Sea Shepherd was successful last year in preventing the killing of close to 500 whales and is confident of doing even better this season.
“The crew are tired and a little dizzy from the LRAD’s,” said Dr. Miller. “But everyone is in good spirits and Steve Roest is resting comfortably. The whalers were very aggressive.”
“I wish we did not have to be down here in this dangerous situation,” said Captain Watson. “I’ve said repeatedly that if Australia or New Zealand would agree to take Japan to the international court on this then we would back off.”
“Because international law is not being enforced, we have no choice but to do what we can with the resources available to us to defend these endangered whales in this established international whale sanctuary.”
A whaling nation until 1978, Australia established a whale sanctuary in its Exclusive Economic Zone in 1999.
The sanctuary includes the EEZ around the Australian Antarctic Territory, where today’s battle is taking place.
In 2008, the Australian Federal Court ruled it was illegal for the Japanese whaling fleet to kill whales in the sanctuary.