Here in the UK most people are pretty oblivious to the start of the whaling season. However down in the Southern Ocean anti-whaling protestors and whaling ships are engaged in a vicious battle that has become known as 'whale wars'.
The start of December saw the launch of the annual war between Japanese whalers and activists which somewhat resembles a playground fight.
Protestors try to impede the harpoon vessels by following them around trying to blockade them in and preventing them from reaching the factory ships so that the catches can’t be processed.
Both parties have been accused of using extreme force and unusual measures include high power water cannons, stink bombs, paint, tear gas, grappling hooks and activists are even accused of trying to tie up ship rudders using wire and rope.
They each accuse the other of endangering lives:
The Japanese Fisheries Agency whaling boat Yushin Maru 2 called the actions of the activist group Sea Shepherd: "extremely dangerous acts which threaten the safety of our country's vessels and the life of its crew".
Whilst the captain of the Sea Shepherd boat the 'Steve Irwin', Paul Watson, told ABC radio that three of its crew had been injured and that the whalers threw sticks and tear gas.
"They have been using concussion grenades on us. Today they used, also for the first time, tear gas, which they have in these large canisters on backpacks."
The situation has even sparked diplomatic incidents after the attorney general protested when the Japanese vessels entered Australian territorial waters without permission and then, in a separate incident, detained three activists on board for several days, threatening prosecution in Japan for piracy and trespassing.
The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan is permitted to catch up to 900 Minke and Fin whales for scientific research; however conservationists claim that they are abusing this rule saying on the Sea Shepherd website:
"the Japanese fleet has run over 4,500 nautical miles for the last 30 days leaving very little time to kill whales with only one harpoon vessel. The other two harpoon vessels have either been tailing or searching for the Sea Shepherd ships. This illustrates that they really have no scientific agenda at all since their so-called survey requires them to "sample" whales from the two different areas alternatively each year. This is not about science and it never has been. It’s not even about profit any more because we have negated their profits. It’s simply about pride. Whaling in the Southern Ocean has become a heavily subsidised welfare project for an archaic industry that has no place in the twenty-first century."
Last year Sea Shepherd claimed a significant victory after the fleet returned to port with just one-fifth of its intended catch after a series of clashes with activists.
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