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It was a comparatively minor entry in the annual, ritualized battle between pro- and anti-whalers. Japan’s whaling fleet pulled out of Shimonoseki port near Nagasaki earlier this week on its way to another controversial four-month Antarctic cull. In the fine print of the 2011 departure, however, was a PR landmine that would detonate and send ripples across the world.

Traveling with the whalers was what the Japanese media called “beefed-up security,” a euphemism for a party of coastguard officers who would ride shotgun in the converted harpoon ship Shonan Maru 2, making sure the fleet achieved its target catch. That vessel gained some notoriety last year when it plowed through the Ady Gil ocean-going speedboat, cutting it in half.

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