In December and January activists from environmental groups Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd battled with a Japanese whaling fleet in the ocean off the coast of Antarctica.
Each year Japan carries out its “scientific” whaling programme in the Antarctic and North Pacific. The 100-day hunt for Minke and endangered Fin whales is illegal and violates international conservation regulations.
The 2005/6 hunt began when six Japanese ships reached their destination off the coast of Antarctica. Two Greenpeace ships, the Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise had followed the Japanese fleet from Cape Town, South Africa, whilst Sea Shepherd's Farley Mowat left the coast of Australia in an independent bid to disrupt the hunt.
Since 21 December, Greenpeace activists have attempted to stop the hunting by placing their inflatable crafts (RIBs) in between the whalers harpoons and their prey. In mid-January, Texan Greenpeace crew member Joe Constantine was dragged out of one of the RIBs after a harpoon was shot over the craft and the line became entangled. He spent a few minutes in the freezing waters; the whale was reportedly killed instantly.
On 8 January, the Arctic Sunrise was rammed by the factory ship of the Japanese fleet, the Nisshin Maru, after Greenpeace activists in RIBs painted “whaling meat from sanctuary” on the side of a supply vessel used for receiving the meat.
In a counter-attack, on Monday 9 January, the Sea Shepherd's Farley Mowat sideswiped the supply ship Oriental Bluebird, used to transport meat back to Japan. The group argued that ramming the supply ship could help prevent the slaughter of more whales, as it believed the Maru did not have the capacity to carry all the whales caught and was dependent on offloading to the Bluebird in order to create space to catch more. SS activists have also been out in RIBs, throwing cable into the sea in attempts to foul the whaler's propellers.
Whilst the hunt is carried out in the name of scientific research, it is widely recognised that, once caught, the whales are butchered and boxed for sale on the market. Even UK fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw has condemned the whaling, stating that “the unnecessary slaughter is regarded by many countries as a means to bypass the International Whaling Commissions (IWC) moratorium”.
Since the ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1985, the Japanese Whale Research Programme has killed more than 6,800 Minke whales, compared to only 840 whales killed for scientific research in the 31 years prior to the moratorium.
In a press release on 12 January, New Zealand's Maritime Union stated that its members would refuse to work with any whaling vessel visiting New Zealand's ports. Its general secretary, Trevor Hanson, confirmed his support for both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, saying, “When the polite approach fails, the use of nonviolent direct action is the best method.”
On 17 January, 17 governments backed the activists' call for Japan to cease its “scientific” whaling programme and return its vessels from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Sea Shepherd reported on 21 January that the Farley Mowat and both Greenpeace vessels would be returning to Cape Town.
In related news, the Norwegian government confirmed that it had approved a 30% increase in the annual kill of Minke whales. In 2006 Norewgian whalers will be allowed to kill 1,052 Minke whales.