SYDNEY – Militant environmental group Sea Shepherd said Japan’s whaling fleet has departed the Antarctic Ocean whale sanctuary and appears to be heading home with its smallest catch on record.
Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, on Saturday hailed his group’s “enormously successful” harassment campaign and said this winter’s hunt would likely result in the whalers’ lowest haul in history, with “no more than 75″ of the majestic mammals culled.
The meager total contrasts with the 267 caught last year — 266 minke whales and one fin whale — and is dramatically below the Institute of Cetacean Research’s target this year of 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales.
“The entire Japanese whaling fleet is now north of 60 degrees and out of the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” Watson said. “Is whaling over for the season? We are not positive, but we are 80 percent sure that it may be over.
“This campaign will see the lowest take by Japan’s whaling fleet in the entire history of their Antarctic hunts,” he said.
Watson said a fuel supply tanker, the Korean-owned and Panamanian-flagged Sun Laurel, was about 48 hours from the whaling fleet’s Nisshin Maru mother ship, with a four-day return trip to the Antarctic Ocean sanctuary looking increasingly unlikely. “This would leave about a week to kill whales, and with the weather quickly deteriorating it would hardly be worth the effort,” Watson said.
He added that Sea Shepherd had seen the whalers kill just two minke whales and that they had only two days of unobstructed hunting in the entire season, which began in late December.
“My conservative estimate of the number of whales killed this year is no more than 75. It could be much lower, but certainly not higher,” he said.
Watson described Sea Shepherd’s antiwhaling campaign this winter, during which each side accused the other of vessel ramming attacks, as “enormously successful,” and assured his group will “continue to follow the whaling fleet north to ensure that they do not return to kill whales.”
Despite years of international condemnation and increasingly bold harassment by Sea Shepherd, Japan continues to slaughter whales under a so-called scientific research loophole in the global moratorium on whaling. The Japanese government makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up on dinner tables.
Last month, Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi vowed that the nation would never stop its whaling operations, describing criticism by environmentalists and nations including Australia as “a kind of prejudice against Japanese culture.”
Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in an attempt to end to its annual cull of hundreds of whales, purportedly in the name of science.
But Sea Shepherd has also been hauled before the courts, with a U.S. judge in December banning the hardline group from physically confronting any whaling vessel of the Japanese fleet. The judge also ruled that the group’s ships and activists must remain at least 500 yards (457 meters) from the whalers and avoid “navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel.”
And an appeals court last week labelled Sea Shepherd “pirates” and described their antiwhaling campaigns as “violent acts for private ends,” clearing the way for Japan to pursue an injunction against the group’s obstruction in the Antarctic Ocean.