Greenpeace activists clash with Japanese whaling fleet in Southern Ocean

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Inflatable boats from the Greenpeace ships - the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza - hinder the transfer of a dead minke whale from the Japanese whaling fleet catcher ship Kyo Maru No.1 to the Nisshin Maru factory ship.(© Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)

The environmental activist group Greenpeace has attempted to disrupt Japan's Southern Ocean "scientific" whaling fleet. After searching for the whaling fleet for nearly a month, the Greenpeace ships, MY Esperanza and MY Arctic Sunrise, are floating alongside the Japanese mothership in Australia's Antarctic territorial waters, directly south of Tasmania.

The Japanese whaling fleet has an expected catch of over 900 minke whales – more than double its previous catch. The fleet - owned by Kyodo Senpaku and part-owned by Nissui, Japan's second-largest marine products firm - is also targeting endangered fin whales for what they claim is a scientific program. Fin whales are the second largest creatures on earth.

Greenpeace say they have asked the whalers to stop whaling immediately and return to Japan, but have received no response from the vessels. In inflatables carrying banners which read "defend the whales" and "stop the whaling," crew from the two ships declared their intention to stop the hunt.

Leader of the Greenpeace expedition, Shane Rattenbury said their eight small boats have begun to "interfere" with the whaling process.

"We positioned our two ships to the stern of the Japanese mother ship in order to prevent the whale being transferred on to the ship and we were successful in stopping that process for about 45-minutes," said Mr Rattenbury, describing a capture boat ramming the Greenpeace ship in an attempt to push it clear.

He said the Japanese boat fought back with water cannons and one of several Greenpeace inflatables capsized in the wash. All crew were retrieved without injury.

"We're going to do everything we can over the coming weeks to interfere with the whaling process, and stop the whales being killed," he said, "our small boats will be putting themselves between the harpoon and the whale.

In a radio call to the whaling vessels, from the bridge of the Arctic Sunrise, Yuko Hirono, of Greenpeace Japan called upon the whalers to stop killing whales "and leave the internationally recognised Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary." Japan's scientific whaling has been the subject of repeated criticism by the International Whaling Commission.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, claim the amount of scientific data gathered by Japan's research program (JARPAII) is extensive and that Japan's whale research programs are conducted in accordance with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The Institute of Cetacean Research say their research does not involve illegal whaling.

Greenpeace say over the next 2 years, 40 more fin whales will be added to the annual kill, along with 50 humpback whales.

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: Southern Ocean whaling season (2005-2006)

"This whale hunt is unnecessary, unjustified, and unwanted," said Rattenbury. "Once the whales have been measured and weighed by the 'scientists' the butchers get to work and the whales are cut up and boxed for market. This is all about money and not science."

The area in which the Japanese fleet is hunting has been designated as the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, in an effort to allow whale populations to recover after stocks were depleted during the commercial whaling of the last century.

Seventy crew and campaigners from 19 countries are on board the two Greenpeace vessels, including the UK, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Ghana, Russia, Norway, Denmark, USA, France, Italy, Japan, Ireland, India, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Austria and Argentina.

Japan's whaling program is expected to kill nearly one thousand whales this season.