Sea Shepherd Conservation Society operations

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society operations
A variation of the flag used by the group.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society engages in various demonstrations, campaigns, and tactical operations at sea and elsewhere, including conventional protests and direct actions to protect marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd operations have included interdiction against commercial fishing, shark poaching and finning, seal hunting and whaling.[1][2] Many of their activities have been called piracy or terrorism by their targets.[3] Sea Shepherd says that they have taken more than 4,000 volunteers on operations over a period of 30 years.[3]


Fishing (1987 - present)

Anti-driftnetting campaigns (1987 - present)

Sea Shepherd engaged in a multi-year campaign against the drift netting practices, which it calls a way of strip mining the ocean's wildlife. Sea Shepherd's Divine Wind vessel investigated suspected driftnet fleets and collected ghost nets in 1987, while in 1990-1992 Sea Shepherd II and the Edward Abbe several times rammed Japanese driftnetting vessels and destroyed their nets. Sea Shepherd only reduced their campaign activities after the United Nations in 1992 banned drift-netting in international waters.[4]

Sea Shepherd in 2006 noted that drift netting had again gained prominence, due to the reduction of fish stocks tempting commercial fisheries to again use the method to keep up their catch volumes.[4]

Mexico tuna boat incident (1991)

In February 1991, representatives of a tuna boat in the Pacific south of Mexico said that they had been rammed by Sea Shepherd II. Sea Shepherd accused it of catching and killing dolphins in its tuna nets and confirmed its ship had dealt the tuna boat a "glancing blow.”[5]

Cooperation with Costa Rica (2002)

In April 2002, the Government of Costa Rica invited Sea Shepherd to assist in patrolling for poachers around Cocos Island. The group and Costa Rica had negotiated an agreement for this work which was due to be finalised on April 30, 2002.[6] On April 22, the Farley Mowat (formerly the Ocean Warrior),[7] captained by Paul Watson, was en route to the island when it came across the Varadero I which the group alleges was poaching sharks. The authorities were contacted and Sea Shepherd was told to bring the ship in. The Farley Mowat forced the other vessel into a nearby Guatemalan port with the use of pressure hoses, and in the altercation, the two vessels collided, causing some damage to the Varadero I.[8]

Subsequently, Paul Watson was charged with attempted shipwrecking and murder by the fishermen. These charges were dropped on April 29 by the prosecutor when footage of the incident taken by a documentary team aboard the Farley Mowat was shown. Footage of the event can be seen in the film Sharkwater. The prosecutor was reported to have found no evidence of any wrongdoing.[8][9] A new prosecutor was later appointed to repursue the charges and Watson's lawyer advised he leave the country.[8] Local environmental groups argue that fishing interests opposed to marine conservation were behind the legal proceedings.[6]

Southern Pacific/Galapagos Islands (2000-present)

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has operated in the Galapagos marine reserve to protect marine wildlife. The reserve was declared in 1986, with an increased area declared in 1998, and despite government attempts to limit catches, fishing continued in the waters around the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Parks Service lacked the manpower to adequately manage the marine park, and fishing laws were regularly flouted.[10] The largest fisheries were for spiny lobster, sea cucumbers, and shark fins, mainly for export to Asian markets.[11] Longline fishing[12] and illegal nets[13] also cause a bycatch of seals,[14] turtles, sharks,[15] boobies and other marine animals.[16]

In December, 2000, the Sea Shepherd ship, Sirenian, was sent to the Galapagos to assist in patrolling the 130,000 square kilometre marine reserve around the Islands. Sea Shepherd had signed a five-year agreement with the Galapagos National Parks Service to provide the Sirenian, with some crew, as a patrol vessel.[17] Under the agreement, the Sirenian had an Ecuadorian captain, engineer, and carries Parks Service officers. The Sirenian is a 95-foot former United States Coast Guard Cutter and is now permanently stationed in the Galapagos.

In November, 2000, the fishers reacted to new catch limits on lobster by ransacking the Parks Service offices, the facilities of the Darwin Research Centre and trashing the Park Director’s home, burning his possessions in the street.[18][19] The Sirenian carried a cargo of new computers, cameras, and communications equipment to replace what was destroyed by the fishers.[20] The Sirenian captured four illegal boats in the first three weeks of March, 2001.[19]

In September, 2001, the Ecuadorian Navy detained the Ocean Warrior. This occurred after the Parks Service captured seven illegal shark fishing boats at sea and Sea Shepherd criticized the Ecuadorian Navy for not enforcing the law.[21] The Sea Shepherd Ecuadorian representative, Sean O’Hearn-Giminez, was arrested onboard and threatened with deportation.[21]

In June 2004, a Sea Shepherd crew-member, Cathy Davies, along with at least six other Sea shepherd members, was taken hostage during protests by fishers who were protesting recently enacted quotas on sea cucumber (Holothuroidea).[22] Armed with clubs, pipes, and Molotov cocktails, the fishers had seized Parks Service offices and tourist locations.[23][24] Sea Shepherd crew joined Parks Services officers at the barricades erected by fishers around the buildings. Another team of Sea Shepherd crew were dispatched to guard Lonesome George, one of the Galapagos Islands’ most famous turtles, as the fishers had threatened to kill him if the quota on sea cucumber was not lifted. About 100 residents of San Cristóbal Island marched in protest against the fishers actions.[25] In July, the High Court of Ecuador upheld the Parks Service limits on the take of sea cucumber. The Parks Service banned the catch of sea cucumber for 2005 and 2006 to allow for the populations to recover from over-fishing. Watson called this a "great victory for conservation in the Galapagos."[26] In an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund, Sea Shepherd donated the Sirenian to the Galapagos National Park Service. The WWF refurbished the boat, which now operates as the Yoshka.[27]

In May, 2007, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, relaxed an International ban on shark finning by legalizing the sale of fins from sharks caught accidentally. Sea Shepherd’s Ecuadorian representative, Sean O’Hearn-Giminez, accompanied a police raid that found two tons of sharks fins caught before a Presidential decree.[28] Fifteen people were arrested in the raid at Manta. However, a prosecutor ordered them released and the shark fins were returned to the fishers. O’Hearn-Giminez was arrested and ordered to be deported. This order was revoked later that day at the request of President Correa. The reason given was that O’Hearn-Giminez had a valid visa, as his wife is Ecuadorian.[29]

In June 2007, O’Hearn-Giminez participated in a raid on a house in Libertad that was being used for illegally processing sea cucumbers. At least 40,000 sea cucumbers were seized and two men arrested.[30][dead link] Later that month, Sea Shepherd staff and operatives from the Ecuadorian Environmental Police seized 18,673 shark fins and arrested four men. Sean O’Hearn-Giminez said that "This successful sting is the result of several months working covertly with the co-operation of General Bolivar Cisneros, Chief Commander of the Ecuadorian National Police. Sea Shepherd traced potential exit points in the illegal shark fin trade in the Galapagos and Ecuador."[30]

Paul Watson was awarded the Amazon Peace Prize for his and Sea Shepherd’s work on behalf of the environment and marine species in Latin America. The award was given in July 2007 by the Latin American Association for Human Rights and the Ecuadorian vice-President. Watson also signed two agreements at this time, one for Sea Shepherd’s involvement in the protection of the Amazon River Dolphin and the Amazonian manatee; the other with the Ecuadorian Police to work with them to detect and destroy illegal fishing boats.[30]

In 2008, US Federal agent Scott West resigned his position and joined Sea Shepherd to work in its intelligence and investigations department. West will work in partnership with the Ecuadorian National Police and the Galapagos National Park to oppose illegal fishing in the marine reserve.[31]

In early 2010, Sea Shepherd announced that the Dutch Post Code Lottery had provided the group with an annual €500,000 grant, as well as an additional €1 million for their conservation programs in the Galapagos.[32]

Operation Blue Rage (2010)

Sea Shepherd transferred to the Mediterranean Sea to intervene against illegal Bluefin Tuna fishing in the area, primarily off the coast of Malta, in June 2010. Operation Blue Rage began in June 2010, after the lawful amount of Bluefin Tuna had been caught. The Steve Irwin and Sea Shepherd aircraft patrolled the area, and undercover operatives were placed within Malta and other areas in the Mediterranean to identify and document illegal fishing operations. On June 17, Sea Shepherd freed 800 Bluefin Tuna by cutting fishing nets they encountered, and engaged in a small skirmish with the Maltese fishing vessel that had laid them.[33]

Canadian sealing (1979 - present)

The first direct action undertaken by Sea Shepherd was against Canadian seal hunting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In March 1979, 32 crew aboard the Sea Shepherd protested the hunt and eight members were arrested after going on the ice to spray the pups with colored organic dye so as to render the pelts worthless to traders.[34][35]

Sea Shepherd protested a Canadian seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the north coast of Nova Scotia in March 1983. The arrival of the group led to a one day suspension of the hunt. On March 25, the Sea Shepherd II was ordered back by Canadian authorities after the vessel came within one half-mile of seal hunters. Watson promised to scuttle the ship if they attempted to board it.[36] The Sea Shepherd II was fortified with barbed wire and a water cannon.[37] On March 27, the vessel was stuck in ice and Watson and three others walked across the ice to Chéticamp where they were later arrested for viewing the seal hunt without a permit.[38] 15 officers boarded the ship from a Canadian Coast Guard vessel with the use of tear gas and smoke bombs. The crew was arrested without any resistance or injuries. They were charged with conspiracy to commit mischief and conspiracy to commit extortion.[39] Watson was bailed out by actor Mike Farrell and was acquitted upon appeal of the charges.[38]

In March 1995, the group protested the seal hunt in the Magdalen Islands. While staying in the town of Cap-aux-Meules, witnesses reported that 200 club-wielding fishermen stormed the hotel where the group was staying. The group, including Martin Sheen, was escorted to the airport under a heavy police guard. The attackers trashed the room in a two-hour rampage while Watson and Sheen caught a flight to another island.[40]

In 2005, Sea Shepherd campaigned against that year's seal hunt in Canada, which includes a boycott of Canadian seafood products.[41] Sea Shepherd crew went onto the ice to document the sealing and noted they were soon confronted by a group of sealers who verbally abused and punched the group of crew, as well as threatened them with spiked clubs called hak-a-piks.[42] Ten of the protestors were arrested for being too close to sealing without a permit.[43] Sea Shepherd recorded the incident and sent the video[44] to police, but say the sealers were not charged.

The MV Farley Mowat operated during Canadian seal hunting in March and April 2008. The group contends it was in international waters observing Canada's seal hunt, while Canadian authorities allege the vessel was harassing the seal hunters.

On 29 March 2008 the MV Farley Mowat and a Canadian Coast Guard ship collided.[45] The coast guard icebreaker had put itself between the Farley Mowat and a smaller seal hunter's boat. The group says their vessel was rammed while the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans department says the coast guard ship was grazed by the Farley Mowat.[46]

The captain and first officer were arrested for bringing their vessel to within one-half nautical mile of seal hunters on March 30, April 11, and April 12. The location of the boat at the time of the seizure is controversial. Sea Shepherd says the boat was seized illegally in international waters,[47] while the Fisheries minister says that the boat was seized in Canadian waters. On 2 July 2008, they entered a plea of not guilty. The lawyer set to defend the Captain and First Mate withdrew from the case.[48] They did not want to be represented by a Sydney lawyer and were not represented during their four-day trial. On June 30, they were convicted of endangering lives by bringing the Farley Mowat to within one-half nautical mile from sealing activities without an official permit.[49] The judge found that they had been warned to back away from the sealers but ignored the radioed commands. The MV Farley Mowat, which was forfeited and to be sold by the Canadian Government to Green Ship LLC. [50]

Whaling (1979 - present)

Sea Shepherd has protested against whaling throughout the world. Some of its first actions were against whalers. The group has also acted against whaling by countries who they feel have not followed the 1986 internationally recognized nonbinding moratorium on commercial whaling. Dr. Sidney Holt, formerly of the International Whaling Commission and a chief architect of the moratorium, has called Watson's involvement in anti-whaling an "absolute disaster" for the cause. He referenced "blowback"[51] for those who want to see an end to whaling by "playing piracy on the ocean."[38]

Spain and Portugal-area whaling (1979-1980)

Sea Shepherd spent part of 1979 hunting for the whaling ship Sierra which was notorious for having undetermined ownership, ignoring whaling agreements, hunting indiscriminately, and using non-explosive harpoons.[52] To increase the effect of a ramming, the bow of the Sea Shepherd was filled with approximately 100 tonnes of cement. In July, the Sierra was found off the port of Oporto, Portugal. Sea Shepherd put non-essential crew ashore and manned by three crew (Paul Watson, Peter Woof, and Jerry Doran), returned to ram and cripple the Sierra. The Sea Shepherd then attempted to reach the United Kingdom, but was intercepted by the Portuguese Navy and escorted back to Oporto. The ship and crew were not arrested but the ship was held for what was called an "informal inquiry."[53] The Sierra was able to make it back to port for extensive repairs.[51] In Oporto, Watson learned that one of the Sea Shepherd crew, Richard Morrison, had been beaten and left severely concussed by members of the Sierra crew.[52] In December, Watson and Peter Woof returned to Portugal intending to steal the seized ship. They found the ship had been stripped of equipment and the Portuguese police advised them to leave, as they could not guarantee their safety. Watson decided to scuttle the ship rather than have it be sold for scrap and potentially used to compensate the owners of the Sierra.[54]

While in Lisbon in February 1980, the Sierra was sunk with limpet mines.[55] The Sierra's chief engineer, Luis Mendes, told reporters that he believed "the blast was set by crew members of the Sea Shepherd."[55] In a 2004 interview Paul Watson said, "Meanwhile, the Sierra had been repaired and was ready to return to sea. It never did so: on February 6, 1980, my crew blew the bottom out of her and permanently ended her career. We traded a ship for a ship, but it was a great trade because we also traded our ship for the lives of hundreds of whales."[56]

In April 1980, explosives were used to sink the whalers Isba I and Isba II in Vigo, Spain. Watson said that the boats were "victims of magnetic mines, one of them homemade, which had been planted by the same trio that destroyed the Sierra."[57] Sea Shepherd does show these vessels on the tally of vessels "sunk" on the side of the Farley Mowat and the back of some Sea Shepherd shirts. The whalers Susan and Theresa are also shown on these tallies. No one was injured during the attacks.[51]

Soviet Union-fleet whaling (1981-1982)

In July 1981, The Sea Shepherd II sailed for the Bering Sea with the intention of harassing the Soviet whaler Sevetny. The IWC had authorized a Soviet take of 179 migrating whales off the Siberian coast.[58] On August 10, the group photographed what they considered an illegal whaling operation at an onshore packing plant.[59] The Sea Shepherd II was pursued towards American waters by Soviet helicopter gunships and a frigate. The Soviets signaled for the Sea Shepherd vessel to stop, dropped flares on the deck, and attempted to foul its propeller.[60] The Sea Shepherd II remained in the area for several days despite the Soviet warning of "decisive action" and potential espionage charges.[61]

In the summer of 1982, Watson offered a reporter an exclusive story on the group's plan to ram a Soviet vessel. The reporter informed authorities and the ramming did not take place.[62] On September 13, 1982, Watson dropped paint filled light bulbs from an airplane onto a Soviet vessel to protest the country's whaling.[63] The ship was positioned off the coast of Washington state's Cape Flattery and believed to have been monitoring a nearby submarine base.[64] Watson and Sea Shepherd were charged with violations of Canada's Aeronautics Act. The charges were dismissed by a provincial court judge because they did not specify where the act had occurred.[65]

Norwegian whaling (1992, 1994)

In late December 1992, O.R.C.A Force (Sea Shepherd) sabotaged the whaler Nybraena in response to Norway's decision to resume commercial whaling of minke whales in 1993. Police found the vessel's engine room nearly full of water at her moorings in the Lofoten Islands but were able to keep it afloat.[66] The crew was at a Christmas party during the attempted sinking, which Watson described as a "Christmas gift to the Atlantic and to the children of the world, so that they can have whales in the future."[67][68] Watson and Lisa Distefano[69] were charged with gross destruction of property.[70] Five years later Norway sentenced Watson and DiStefano, in absentia, to four months in prison. Watson was held in Holland on a Norwegian-issued Interpol extradition notice, but after 80 days in detention the notice was denied.[71][72]

In July 1994, Sea Shepherd operated the ship Whales Forever off the coast of Norway to protest the renewed commercial whaling of minke whales. The ship was intercepted by the Norwegian Coast Guard patrol ship Andenes since it had not requested permission to enter Norwegian waters. The Whales Forever rammed the Andenes, and the Andenes fired two nonexplosive warning shots. The Norwegian Coast Guard warned that they would follow the Sea Shepherd vessel to the Shetland Islands if necessary to arrest the activists.[73][74] The next day, the Foreign Ministry issued a communique calling Watson a "terrorist.”[75] Sea Shepherd claimed the vessel was attacked in international waters while the Coast Guard claimed that Whales Forever had rammed their vessel in Vestfjord.[73] Both ships were slightly damaged but injuries were not reported. (The Whales Forever was later sold due to the extensive repair costs.[76])

In 1994, the Sea Shepherd unsuccessfully attempted to scuttle another Norwegian whaling vessel called the Senet at its wharf in Gressvic.[77]

Faroe Islands whaling (1986, 2000, 2010)

In 1986, Sea Shepherd went to document and obstruct whaling in the Faroe Islands. In a hunt known as the Grindadráp, islanders drive pilot whales ashore and kill them with knives. The Faroese Coast Guard claim the vessel defied orders to leave territorial waters. The Faroese Coast Guard claimed that they were fired upon with pistols while attempting to board,[78] while Sea Shepherd claimed that they had been repelled by cannons firing chocolate and banana cream pie. The police responded with tear gas canisters. A spokesman for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said they were driven away when the police fired machine guns and tear gas, and denied that there were any weapons on board.[78]

In 2000, Sea Shepherd put pressure on the Faroe Islands to stop the hunting of pilot whales.[79]

In 2010, Sea Shepherd member Peter Hammarstedt posed as a film student in order to film the pilot whale hunt.[80] He counted 236 dead whales before he was recognised. Hammarstedt released the graphic images that documented the nature of the event.[81]

Icelandic whaling (1986)

In November 1986, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claimed responsibility for actions against a whaling station in Hvalfjörður, Iceland. Computers were destroyed with sledgehammers and records were doused with acid. The Hvalur 6 and Hvalur 7, two of the nation's four whaling ships, were sunk by opening their seacocks while they were moored in Reykjavík harbor.[82][83][84] The Icelandic National Police did not arrive until the agents had left, and allowed them to pass through a routine traffic stop en route to an airport, after officers found nothing suspicious. Both ships were later raised by a salvaging company and returned to service. Watson was deported from Iceland after having turned himself in to the police for the incident. Kristjan Loftsson of Iceland's largest whaling company told The New Yorker that Watson is persona non grata in the country.[38]

Makah tribe whaling (1988)

In 1998, the group and other activists protested the Makah Native American tribe's reestablished traditional hunt of Gray whales off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The Makah have received international sanction and federal support for a plan to take 20 whales over the course of five years. The hunts had not occurred in 70 years due to the diminishment of the whale population by commercial whaling. In an attempt to scare the whales from the area, the group originally intended to use underwater speakers blasting the sounds of killer whales[85] as well as a small submarine painted to look like a killer whale.[86]

On November 2, Makah Tribal Police arrested four protesters who entered the reservation during the demonstration. All four were later released. Angry Makah seized an inflatable boat belonging to the group and threw rocks at the Sea Shepherd's 95-foot former Coast Guard vessel Sirenian.[87] Sea Shepherd had two ships involved in a standoff that lasted 57 days before agreeing to withdraw on November 26.[88]

Japanese whaling (2003 - present)

In its anti-whaling efforts, Sea Shepherd attempts to deter Japanese ships that hunt minke and fin whales in the Southern Ocean. In 2005, Japan decided to double its quota from the previous year to 935 minke whales and ten endangered fin whales. In 2007, they planned a take of 50 fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales. Sea Shepherd claims that its activities reduced catches to a level where the Japanese had not been able to make a profit from the whaling for three years running as of 2010.[89]

The Japanese fleet of the Institute of Cetacean Research consists of a factory ship, two spotter vessels, and three harpoon boats.[when?] The whalers say that lethal research is needed to accurately measure the whale population, health, and response to global warming and is essential for the sustainable management of the world's cetacean stocks.[1] Australia and New Zealand have started a non-lethal whale research program to show that the Japanese lethal research program is no longer necessary.[90][91] Sea Shepherd and other environmental groups dispute the Japanese statement of research "as a disguise for commercial whaling, which is banned."[2][92]

Article III.2 of the ICRW,[93] however, requires that no meat from caught whales is wasted, and in order to meet this requirement as well as fund their efforts, the whalers sell the meat on the open market. Among other places, it can be found at Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish market and Japanese restaurants.[1] Sea Shepherd has stated that one of the main aims of their operations is to make commercial whaling financially unviable.

In his 2009 book, Whaling in Japan, Jun Morikawa states that Sea Shepherd's confrontational tactics have actually strengthened Japan's resolve to continue with its whaling program. According to Morikawa, Sea Shepherd's activities against Japan's whaling ships have allowed the Japanese government to rally domestic support for the program from Japanese who were otherwise ambivalent about the practice of hunting and eating whales.[94]

Taiji-area dolphin hunts (2003)

In October 2003, Sea Shepherd documented the method used to kill dolphins in the Japanese historic whaling town of Taiji. They say that Japanese fishermen use unnecessarily brutal methods to hunt dolphins.[95]

In November, two members, including Watson's wife, were arrested for trying to free whales penned in a bay. It was also unclear exactly what species was involved. Watson stated they were dolphins, but Japanese officials said they were probably pilot whales.[96]

In 2004, The Cetacean Society International claimed that the Sea Shepherd's release of captured dolphins "played into the hands of the authorities" and prevented other groups from documenting the activities at Taiji.[97] In 2009, Ian Campbell, a Sea Shepherd board member, called for a boycott of Japan's 2016 Olympic bid because of the reported 23,000 dolphins killed each year at Taiji[98]

Southern Ocean (2005-2006)

Between December 2005 and January 2006, a crew of 43 aboard the Farley Mowat attempted to stop the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. During the campaign, the Farley Mowat 'sideswiped' a Japanese supply ship called the Oriental Bluebird. No damage or injuries were reported.[99] New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter criticized Sea Shepherd as irresponsible for using tactics such as running into the other vessel with a "can opener" device, a seven-foot steel blade on the starboard bow designed to damage the hull of an enemy ship.[1]

Ian Campbell, Australia's environment minister, said Watson's threats to attack the Japanese fleet reflected poorly on legitimate anti-whaling groups and risked "setting back the cause of whale conservation many years.” After Watson called the New Zealand government "contemptible"[100] for allowing Japan to continue killing whales, Campbell called Watson a "lunatic" and "rogue pirate on the seas." Watson dispatched a press release that he would stop his attacks if the governments of New Zealand and Australia would initiate legal action to stop the whaling.[1]

On January 16, the organization declared that its fuel supplies had run out and that they were heading to shore. They claimed credit for chasing the whalers from whaling grounds and hindering operations for over 15 days. The vessel covered more than 4000 km over a six-week period.[101]

Operation Leviathan (2007)

In February 2007, the Robert Hunter and Farley Mowat participated in "Operation Leviathan" against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. The group stated it had spotted the Japanese vessel Kaiko Maru as it pursued a pod of minke whales and moved its vessels to intercept the hunt. The Institute for Cetacean Research in Tokyo said the Robert Hunter rammed the Kaiko Maru and that afterwards, both Sea Shepherd ships came to either side of the Kaiko Maru, stopping her from continuing. The Japanese stated that they then threw smoke pots on to the deck and released ropes and nets. The Japanese had already put out several distress calls due to a propeller they say was damaged during the attacks. Watson told the press that the Farley Mowat chased the whaler into the ice and that the Kaiko Maru then sideswiped the Robert Hunter to push the ship into the ice. The Robert Hunter sustained a one-metre gash in the starboard bow region according to Watson. He also said that shortly after that, the Kaiko Maru reversed and collided deliberately into the port stern section of the Robert Hunter causing a metre-long gash in the hull.[102]

Operation Migaloo (2007-2008)

MV Steve Irwin arriving in Melbourne, 2008.

The 2007-08 Antarctic campaign was named Operation Migaloo, after the only known albino humpback in the world. This campaign was the focus of the first season of Animal Planet's reality TV series Whale Wars, which premiered on November 7, 2008.

On January 15, 2008, after attempting to entangle the whaling vessel's propeller and throwing containers of butyric acid onto the decks,[103] two Sea Shepherd members, Benjamin Potts and Giles Lane, from the Sea Shepherd vessel MV Steve Irwin boarded the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 from a rigid-hulled inflatable boat. The pair were delivering a letter advising the Japanese that they were "whaling illegally"[104] with the hope of creating an international incident.[105] The Japanese responded by saying that the men would be held until Sea Shepherd stopped what they called "dangerous and illegal activities."[106]

The crew of the Yushin Maru No. 2 detained the men for two days, before turning them over to the Australian customs vessel MV Oceanic Viking on the orders of Japanese authorities;[104] subsequently, the Steve Irwin rendezvoused with the Oceanic Viking and the two crewmembers were returned to Sea Shepherd.[103][107][108] On April 9, first mate Peter Brown was described in a newspaper article as saying that the incident only became a hostage situation because the Sea Shepherd vessel left the scene, so the Japanese would be forced to hold the two crewmen longer. He was quoted as saying, "It's all giant street theater."[109]

On March 3, Sea Shepherd members threw bottles of butyric acid and packages of slippery methyl cellulose powder onto the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru. Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith condemned Sea Shepherd's actions for potentially causing injury[110] The Japanese Government called in the Australian and Netherlands ambassadors to protest the actions and urge those countries to prevent any violence.[111] Watson said: "They are so full of crap. We filmed and photographed the entire thing. Not a single thing landed anywhere near their crew ... It is their way of trying to get sympathy."[112]

The International Whaling Commission issued a statement on March 8, 2008 that "called upon the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to refrain from dangerous actions that jeopardise safety at sea, and on vessels and crews concerned to exercise restraint."[113] The statement also reiterated earlier IWC resolutions from May and July 2007 that read in part, "The commission and its contracting governments do not condone and in fact condemn any actions that are a risk to human life and property in relation to the activities of vessels at sea."[114][115] The Australian Government also called for all parties to "exercise restraint" and "responsible behaviour" in the Southern Ocean.[116]

On March 17, 2008 Paul Watson claimed that he was shot by the Japanese crew or coast guard personnel during the campaign. The incident is heavily documented during the show in the final episode, and the first six episodes are covered as a buildup to what is portrayed as the major incident during the campaign. The footage in "Whale Wars" shows Watson standing on the deck of the Steve Irwin while Sea Shepherd crew throws glass bottles filled with butyric acid at the Nisshin Maru whaling vessel.[117] The Japanese respond by throwing flashbang devices. Watson is then shown reaching inside his jacket and bullet-proof vest and remarking "I've been hit." Back inside the bridge of the Steve Irwin, a metal fragment is found inside the vest.[118] The Institute of Cetacean Research has dismissed Sea Shepherd's statements as lies. The Institute and Coast Guard said that they used seven flashbang devices designed to flash and make noise in the air without causing harm.[119] Neither of the two conflicting accounts have been independently verified. The Australian Foreign Affairs Department had condemned "actions by crew members of any vessel that cause injury.” Two media releases were made on the same day from the office. One said that the Australian Embassy in Tokyo had been informed by the Japanese that the whalers had "fired warning shots"[120] while the updated version used the phrase "'warning balls' – also known as 'flashbangs' – had been fired,” and that no gunshots had occurred.[121]

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department obtained arrest warrants for three Sea Shepherd crew (Daniel Bebawi, Jon Batchelor and Ralph Koo), for allegedly attempting to foul the propeller of the Keiko Maru and throwing smoke bombs. Japanese authorities also requested to have the men placed on the Interpol 'red notice' list.[122]

Operation Musashi (2008-2009)

The 2008-2009 Antarctic campaign was named Operation Musashi after the 17th-century Japanese strategist Miyamoto Musashi.[123] On December 4, 2008, actress Daryl Hannah joined Sea Shepherd's crew aboard the Steve Irwin to take part in this season's operation.[124]

On February 6, 2009, Watson reported that the Steve Irwin had collided with the Yushin Maru 2 as the Steve Irwin tried to block its attempt to prevent the transfer of a dead whale up the slipway of the factory ship Nisshin Maru. As Watson explained the incident, "We were in the process of blocking the transfer from the Yushin Maru 2 when the Yushin Maru 1 moved directly in front of the bow to block us. I could not turn to starboard without hitting the Yushin Maru 1. I tried to back down but the movement of the Yushin Maru 2 made the collision unavoidable."[125] The Japanese whalers blamed Sea Shepherd for the crash, characterizing the incident as a "deliberate ramming."[126][127] The collision was filmed by cameramen for the Whale Wars reality series,[128] and formed part of a multi-day conflict during which Sea Shepherd attempted to prevent the Japanese fleet from harpooning whales, respectively tried to block whales from being transferred to the factory ship for processing by blockading the Japanese' vessel's slipway. The Japanese made extensive use of LRADs to deter Sea Shepherd. They were also accused of aiming the device at the Steve Irwin's helicopter while in flight, something the group especially condemned, seeing that the helicopter was only engaged in filming, and could have crashed if the pilot had lost control.[129]

Also in February, the president of the company overseeing the whale hunt used a media release to call upon the government of Australia to prevent what he considered violations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. He expressed concerns over what he called "deliberately ramming vessels and trying to disable their propellers.”[130] When the Steve Irwin returned to Hobart, Australian Federal Police seized film footage and the ships logs.[131]

Operation Waltzing Matilda (2009-2010)

The Ady Gil docked for repairs in Hobart, Tasmania.

In June 2009, Sea Shepherd announced its 2009-10 Antarctic campaign, called Operation Waltzing Matilda.[132] The campaign would include the record-breaking Earthrace vessel, now renamed Ady Gil in honor of the benefactor who helped acquire the vessel for Sea Shepherd.[133] The Ady Gil was a futuristic styled ship that held the world record for circumnavigation of the globe by a motorized vessel. The eco-friendly vessel usually ran on a low emission fuel "derived mainly from animal fat, soybeans or other forms of bio-diesel"[134] but was forced by operational reasons to switch to a more polluting petroleum diesel.[135] Pete Bethune, the operator, said that an agreement was reached with Sea Shepherd for the boat to adopt a support role.[136][137] Watson indicated that the Ady Gil would be used to intercept and block harpoons.[138] It was also reported that the MV Steve Irwin was equipped with a new water cannon for this operation.[139]

On January 5, 2010, Sea Shepherd announced that TV personality Bob Barker had earlier donated $5 million to Sea Shepherd to buy in secret an ex-Norwegian whaling vessel, now named Bob Barker after the donor, and that the ship located the Nisshin Maru Japanese whaling vessel. The Bob Barker reportedly flew the Norwegian flag when within range of the Nisshin Maru. The Norwegian flag was then lowered and the 'Jolly Roger' Sea Shepherd flag raised.[140] The Bob Barker's search for the whaling fleet was aided by a tip sent in from the MV Orion, which happened upon the whaling fleet while on a cruise to Antarctica.[141]

In December 2009 and early 2010, New Zealand representatives of the Institute of Cetacean Research, including PR specialist Glenn Inwood, chartered Australian planes to search for the other Sea Shepherd ship, MV Steve Irwin. Sea Shepherd claims that while doing so, they fraudulently posed as New Zealand government agents - but in any case failed to find the vessel.[142][143] The plane hire by the Institute sparked protest from conservation groups and rival political parties of the Australian Government. While the Australian Government itself criticised the hire after it became known, the incident was still seen as failure of the current Labor government of Prime Minister Rudd to follow up on their election promises to strongly oppose Japanese whaling.[144][145] The incident led to the introduction by Rachel Siewert of a Parliament bill to ban Japanese whalers from using Australian planes to spy on protesters.[146][147]

Sea Shepherd reported that in this last season, the group had increasingly received information from private persons about the whereabouts of the Japanese fleet, such as by ship passengers on an Antarctic cruise who noted the fleet refueling.[3]

Japan's Fisheries Agency announced on 12 April 2010 that the whaling fleet had caught about half of the 985 whales it has hoped to catch during the 2009-2010 whaling research season as a result of obstruction by Sea Shepherd operations. The whalers harvested 506 southern minke whales and one finback whale.[148]

Ady Gil collision (2010)

On January 6, 2010, the Ady Gil was severely damaged in the Antarctic Ocean after the Japanese security vessel the Shōnan Maru 2 collided with it; both sides blamed each other for the incident.[149] One of the six crewmen was injured.[150] Sea Shepherd attempted to tow the stricken vessel to an Antarctic research base where it could have been lifted aboard a larger ship, but the boat took on too much water and became too heavy on the tow.[151] The Ady Gil was abandoned on January 7, 2010 at 17:20 GMT.[152]

The Australian Government,[150] and the New Zealand Government called for restraint and expressed concern at the risk of human lives in the hostile environment. The New Zealand government also repeated its opposition to whaling in the Sanctuary.[151] However, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully later stated that:

"If people [referring to Sea Shepherd] are determined to break the law and determined to kill other people on the high seas, then it is not the responsibility of the New Zealand Government or any other Government to send armed vessels down there or something of that sort to stop them."[153]

This brought a heated response by Paul Watson, who accused the "know-nothing politician" McCully of ignoring the fact that Sea Shepherd had not killed anyone in over three decades of direct action - and stated that McCully's comments were instead giving Japanese whalers a green light to endanger the lives of Sea Shepherd crews.[153][154]

A New Zealand spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research noted that Japan would continue to protect their operations "in whatever way it can" and that further clashes would be likely unless Sea Shepherd stopped its operations.[151]

On January 9, 2010, Sea Shepherd lodged a piracy complaint against the captain and the crew of the Shōnan Maru 2 in the Dutch courts.[155] It has also asked Australia and New Zealand to investigate charges against the Japanese, including for attempted murder,[156] and proclaimed that had the situation been reversed, the Australian Navy would now be sending a ship to arrest him.[157] After requests from the Australian Government, the Government of Japan has stated that it would undertake "appropriate inquiries" into how the collision occurred, but accused Sea Shepherd of intentionally endangering the lives of crew.[158] However, they also protested against the call for restraint on both sides, as they consider Sea Shepherd to blame for the "unlawful rampage.”[159]

Sea Shepherd noted that after the loss of the vessel, a flood of donations had arrived for the group, with $170,000 being given in the first few hours after the collision.[160]

On February 15, 2010, it was reported that Pete Bethune, the former captain of the Ady Gil, boarded the Shonan Maru at night for the purpose of making a citizen's arrest of its captain for attempted murder of his own crew and the destruction of the Ady Gil. Bethune, who reportedly had to overcome spikes and anti-boarding nets to board the Japanese vessel, was also to present the captain with a bill for $3 million USD and a letter outlining the findings of maritime experts who found that the Japanese vessel was at fault for the collision as it was the overtaking vessel and did not have right of way.[161][162] According to the crew of the Shonan Maru, Bethune had thrown butyric acid onto the ship, giving a chemical burn to one sailor. Paul Watson, group founder and captain of the Steve Irwin, said that the mission was intended as a message to the New Zealand government which the SSCS accuses of hypocrisy and failure to represent the interests of the Ady Gil and its captain. In an interview, Watson said, ”If we had sunk a Japanese vessel we would now be under arrest by the Australian navy.”[161] Meanwhile, New Zealand's government was being criticised by the main opposition party of "washing their hands" of Mr. Bethune's fate (despite the government offering consular assistance), after Foreign Minister McCully declared that Bethune must have been well aware of the consequences of his actions.[163]

Japan's foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, announced that Bethune was being detained under international maritime law and would be transported to Japan, where he would face charges, possibly of piracy.[164]

Bethune arrived in Japan approximately a month after his boarding. Bethune was interrogated, then brought to trial at the Tokyo District Court, where he was charged with trespassing, causing injuries, obstructing commercial activities, vandalism, and carrying a weapon. Sea Shepherd called these charges "bogus," and described Bethune as a "political prisoner." In a statement, it said "Shame on Japan for blowing Captain Bethune's case out of proportion, and shame on the Japanese maritime authorities for failing to investigate the serious criminal actions of the Shonan Maru 2."[165]

Operation No Compromise (2010-2011)

Sea Shepherd's 2010-2011 campaign, dubbed "Operation No Compromise", consisted of 90 Sea Shepherd crew.[166] Japan decided to end the hunt early after catching only 172 whales from its quota of up to 985. The Institute of Cetacean Research called Sea Shepherd's activities "eco-terrorism", and the Japanese IWC Commissioner said the government made the decision to protect human lives.[167]

Atsushi Ishii, Japanese political scientist and professor at Tohoku University's Center for Northeast Asian Studies stated in his 2011 book, Kaitai Shinso: Hogei Ronso ("Anatomy of the Whaling Debate"), however, that Japan used the activities by conservationists like Sea Shepherd as a face-saving excuse to stop the unprofitable Antarctic hunt. Ishii asserts that the activities of environmental and animal rights activists were actually counterproductive because they fueled nationalism and increased the demand for whale meat in Japan. Ishii predicted that Japan would shift its whale hunting efforts to coastal waters and the Northwest Pacific.[168]

Operation Divine Wind (2011-2012)

After Operation No Compromise, Watson said the group was seeking a fourth vessel for the following summer's campaign, "Divine Wind".[167] On September 30, 2011, Japan based Asahi News announced Japan would return to the Southern Ocean, despite rumours that in the wake of the 3/11 tsunami the Japanese government may not justify the research programme's continuation. [169]


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