Three Minke whales on the deck of the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru inside what Sea Shepherd Australia says is an internationally recognised whale sanctuary, on Sunday.
SYDNEY: Anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd yesterday said Japan’s fleet had been separated and driven out of its Antarctic hunting ground, declaring an early success in its campaign to disrupt the annual hunt.
The militant group said the five-vessel fleet was “in disarray” and currently not hunting whales, with the harpoon ships separated from each other by hundreds of miles and the factory ship Nisshin Maru well outside its kill zone.
“The Nisshin Maru is on the run and unable to stop and whale in its self-designated whale-poaching grounds,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.
Japan’s fisheries agency insisted it was business as usual. “We don’t have information on exactly where the ships are,” said an agency official in charge of the whaling mission.
“All we can confirm is that the Japanese research has been neither suspended nor cut short.”
Sea Shepherd has three ships on the high seas to disrupt the harpooners. On Monday it said it had located all five Japanese vessels, releasing photo evidence that four whales had been killed.
Since then the Japanese fleet has split up and their operations have been disrupted, the activist group said. “Should the Nisshin Maru attempt to return to the whaling grounds, Sea Shepherd will be ready to once again intercept and shut down their illegal whaling operations,” it said.
The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was designated by the International Whaling Commission in 1994, but Japan catches the animals there under a “scientific research” loophole in the moratoriuim.
Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice seeking to have its research whaling programme declared illegal, with a ruling due this year.