The Japanese whaling fleet's factory ship is reportedly over 1,000 nautical miles from its whaling grounds in the Southern Ocean and steaming east, leading some observers to call it the end of Japanese whaling for the season — and possibly forever.
The Japanese government has yet to comment on the whaling fleet's intentions but the Nisshin Maru, the fleet's factory ship, is reportedly steaming eastward towards Drake Passage, between South American and Antarctica. The ship had been blockaded by vessels from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and unable to rendezvous with the fleet's harpoon boats for several days. [Note: disregard arrows on map]
The factory ship, which must be within reach of the harpoon boats for the fleet to be able to conduct whaling operations, is more than 1,000 nautical miles outside Japan's self-declared "research" zone for whaling and being pursued by Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker. [Scroll to bottom for photo gallery]
The location of the harpoon boats is unknown but unless they move back within range of the Nisshin Maru soon, the fleet's whaling season will effectively be over.
"They may be thinking they can run the Bob Barker out of fuel," said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson on Tuesday. But Watson seemed unnerved by the possibility of an Antarctic circumnavigation, adding that the Bob Barker has "more than enough fuel to return back west with them or to carry on east with them."
Sea Shepherd gaining upper hand
Since 1988, Japan's "scientific research" whaling program has been responsible for the death of 10,000 Arctic whales. But declining demand for whale meat in Japan, combined with a poor haul last year and what could be the worst year ever for the industry, is a welcome reversal of fortune for the anti-whaling community, which has been stepping up pressure on Japan both diplomatically and via direct intervention.
"We hope this is a first sign of Japanese government decision makers recognising there is no future for whaling in the 21st century and that responsible whale watching, the only genuinely sustainable use of whales, is now the best way forward for a great nation like Japan," Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, "The activists located the fleet as soon as it reached the Antarctic, kept two of the three Japanese harpoon ships engaged for weeks, fouled the propellers of one, delayed a fleet refuelling operation and then sent Nisshin Maru on the run."
During the 2009-2010 season, a Japanese whaling vessel collided with a Sea Shepherd boat rendering the latter dead in the water and requiring an emergency rescue by another Sea Shepherd boat nearby.
Photos: Barbara Veiga, Gary Stokes, Simon Ager /© Sea Shepherd Conservation Society