Sea Shepherd boat “Steve Irwin” heads to Somalian pirate waters

In a not-too-surprising move last week the Sea Shepherd took its ship the “Steve Irwin” – proudly waving its skull-and-crossbones pirate flag – straight into the heart of real pirate country.

While the Shepherd’s are regarded among conservation groups as being rebels and outsiders, willing to go to nearly any lengths to protect whales, dolphins, baby seals, tuna and more, happy to obstruct and lob stink bombs onto opposing vessels … to-date they’ve not actually engaged in what we would consider today to be real piracy, i.e. boat-seizing, hostage-taking and gun-rattling.

But last week they painted the usually all-black “Steve Irwin” in green camo, with a giant “77” on its bow (“so we looked like a Navy ship,” spokeswoman Tiffany Humphrey told me, the number representing the year – 1977 – the organization was founded), crossed the northern Indian Ocean, transited the Gulf of Aden and sailed into the Red Sea, through the waters still regarded “the most dangerous” on the planet thanks to Somali pirates.

“A few (real) pirates came and looked,” said Humphrey, but apparently the “official” look of the environmentalist’s boat gave them pause. Three separate skiffs with a half-dozen men in each approached the ship, tailed for a few miles, but kept their distance. As well as the new paint job, the ship was ringed with barbed wire, 4-foot-long steel spikes and the on-watch crew manned water cannons and “imitation” weapons.

The ship’s new look apparently confused some local navies as well. A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter buzzed the ship, thinking it to be a Dutch warship.
Humphrey reports that they’ll keep the camo look during the ship’s upcoming season in the Mediterranean Sea (dubbed “Operation Blue Rage II”), which starts on June 1 and will attempt to stop bluefin tuna catching off the coast of Libya. “It’s too hot in the Med for our usual black,” said Humphrey.

In related news, the Shepherd’s website suggests that Japanese whalers may not return to the Southern Ocean for their annual hunt (November-March) because they’ve lost funding from the government.
In large part due to the impacts – and ballooning costs – of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear leakage the government in Tokyo has announced massive, across the board budget cuts, including “child support, senior citizen support and pensions, and infrastructure repairs and maintenance.”

But the non-profit groups insists if the whalers do return to Antarctica next November, they’ll be there waiting.
“There have been a few critics who have been advising us to lay off Japan because of the recent disasters,” reports the Shepherd’s website. “The point is that Sea Shepherd interventions are not targeting the Japanese people. We are addressing unlawful activities – whale poachers in an area far from Japan, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where whales are supposedly protected by law.”

[Flickr image via gsz]

Japanese call off whale hunting season — end of Whale Wars?

Despite the seemingly good news from the Southern Ocean – that Japanese whalers have stopped hunting – activists and governments alike are waiting on formal word that they have truly stopped for the season.

There is concern the “suspension” could be some kind of stalling tactic or publicity stunt.

From Australia, Environment Minister Tony Burke, admits to hearing conflicting reports. “At this point, we do not have any statement from the Japanese government to us confirming that this season of whaling is at an end.”

The Japanese Fisheries Agency is only saying that whaling operations have been “suspended” since February 10 “to ensure the safety of the crew.”

For the moment the Sea Shepherd‘s “Bob Barker” is still trailing the Japanese processing ship, the “Nisshin Maru,” on a meandering route that has led both ships away from whaling grounds.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that this season the Japanese have taken very few whales, thanks largely to the constant harassment of the Shepherd’s. Traditionally the Fisheries Agency holds off until season’s end to announce exactly how many whales were taken in the name of science; this year’s goal was between 800 and 900. The best guess right now is that they’ve taken fewer than 100.Sea Shepherd spokesman Peter Hammarstedt, aboard the “Bob Barker,” explained the success the group has had this season: “Every day we prevent them from whaling we’re costing them millions of dollars in lost profit. And we speak the only language that these poachers understand, the language of profit and loss.”

Hammarstedt also reported that the Japanese ship had made a U-turn just before entering the Drake Passage, slowed and headed back to the west.

“The turnabout could mean one of two things,” said Hammarstedt. “First, they may be on a great circle route back to Japan, or second, they may be returning to the whaling grounds in the Ross Sea where the three Japanese harpoon vessels may be waiting to continue their illegal slaughter.”

From the Shepherd’s mother ship, the “Steve Irwin,” Captain Paul Watson was his typical bold self in reaction to the suspension of hunting: “The Japanese Fisheries Agency had no choice but to suspend whaling operations. Sea Shepherd had already enforced a suspension of operations by blocking all whaling operations since February 9th and blocking 75% of all whaling operations for the month of January. We will not allow the Japanese whalers to kill another whale down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

To celebrate its successes this season, Sea Shepherd’s website today announced a “10 percent off” sale on all its merchandise (beanies, hoodies, baby bibs, tank tops, tote bags and more) – a so-called “No Compromise Sale” – in gratitude to its loyal and growing list of supporters around the world.

[Flickr image via gsz]

The Whale Hunter’s Hunter, an Interview with Captain Paul Watson

No one ocean person is more ready to fight on its behalf than Paul Watson. Each season for the past several he has sailed his ship the Steve Irwin to the icy waters off Antarctica to harass Japanese whalers, who insist on continuing their hunt despite international protest and pressure, using “science” as their lone defense. The popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars,” filmed aboard the ship during its offenses, has brought Watson and his Sea Shepherds’ to an international audience. The season down south is just finished and Watson and the Tokyo fleet of whale hunters have announced their take was down by half, thanks to Sea Shepherd’s harassment.

Jon Bowermaster: Has your current campaign in the Southern Ocean been successful?

Captain Paul Watson: I believe it has been successful. Our strategy is an economic one. I don’t believe the Japanese whalers will back off on moral, ethical or scientific grounds but they will quit if they lose the one thing that is of most value to them – their profits. Our objective is to sink the Japanese whaling fleet – economically, to bankrupt them and we are doing that.

We have slashed their kill quotas in half over the last three years and negated their profits. They are tens of millions of dollars in debt on their repayment schedule for Japanese government subsidies. The newly elected Japanese government has pledged to cut their subsidies.

I am actually confident that we can shut them down this year. They are on the ropes financially.
JB: How do you measure success? Fewer whales taken by Japanese? Other signs??

CPW: Of their quota of 935 Minke whales last year they fell short by 304. Of their quota of 50 Fin whales, they took only one. The year before they only took half their quota and in the last three years did not kill enough whales to break even so have been operating at a loss. We have also exposed their illegal whaling activities to the world and initiated a controversy and a discussion on whaling in the Japanese media.

JB: How do the Japanese continue to get away with the whale hunt when so many things say they shouldn’t, i.e. the Antarctica Treaty forbidding commerce below sixty degrees south latitude and the International Whaling Comission’s ban on all whaling?

CPW: There is a lack of economic and political motivation on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. The Japanese whalers are targeting endangered and protected whales inside the boundaries of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty that prohibits commercial activity south of sixty degrees and they are in contempt of the Australian Federal Court for continuing to kill whales in the Australian Antarctic Economic Exclusion Zone. There is no difference between Japanese whale poachers in Antarctica and elephant poachers in East Africa except that the Africans are black and impoverished.

JB: Do you know what the reaction among Japanese people – not scientists, not government – is towards the continued whale hunts?

CPW: I’m not actually concerned. I’m Canadian and the majority of Canadians are opposed to the commercial slaughter of seals but the Canadian government subsidizes it nonetheless. I believe it is a myth that once the people of a nation oppose something that things will change. First, most people are apathetic and could not care one way or another. Secondly, the pro-whalers have an economic motivation to lobby for continued whaling and thirdly in Japan it is considered inappropriate to oppose government or corporate policy. I’ve always felt that educating the Japanese public was a waste of time and smacks of cultural chauvinism. The fact is that whaling is illegal and we intervene for that reason and the key to ending it is the negation of profits.

JB: They are showing The Cove in Japan now, and most Japanese interviewed said they had no idea these dolphin hunts were happening. Are the Japanese aware of “Whale Wars”?

CPW: I am not sure nor do I care. I know that the Japanese government and the whalers are aware of it. I know that the people of Taiji are aware of the dolphin slaughters. I think that the controversy over the film is allowing many Japanese people to become aware of it, despite that the killing of dolphins continues. The Cove has been most valuable in raising awareness outside of Japan, which motivates outside pressure on Japan.

JB: How are whale populations doing around the world? Growing? Shrinking?

CPW: The oceans are dying. Every single commercial fishery is in a state of economic collapse. We have destroyed some ninety percent of the population of the large fishes. All life in the ocean is threatened. And if the oceans die, we die. This is a simple fact that humans choose to ignore. If you eat a fish you are part of the problem. If you eat pork or chicken raised on fishmeal, you are part of the problem. If you throw plastic garbage into the ocean you are part of the problem. All whales are endangered although some populations are slowly recovering, but this may not save them from an overall marine ecological collapse.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of June 24

Some of these are still pretty recent posts that you SHOULD NOT have missed if you’ve been a good little Gadling reader checking in everyday. In the event you somehow slipped and missed a day or two here are five worthy of review.

5. Only in OZ: Irwin’s Whale Watching Boat:
Still feeling melancholy over the death of Steve Irwin? Don’t! Chances are he wouldn’t want you to be and if you find yourself heading to OZ soon this featured activity may be your chance to remember Steve and learn a lot about whales which he loved just as much as the famed crocs.

4. A Canadian in Beijing: Vegan Mandarin Language Survival Guide:

After reading this little language survival guide Ember whipped up, my head is full of useful new words to help out at the dinner table in China. I’m not vegan, but it never hurts to know.

3. Swimming with Manatees: Life in the Slow Zone:
When my friend invited me to swim with manatees the first time I laughed not really knowing what they were or thinking she was serious. After hearing how fun her trip was and this tale by Gadling guest blogger, Dolores Parker, I wish I were closer to Crystal River, FL to swim with them myself. If you’re searching for fun ways to hang with the family in Florida this one is sure to please all.

2. Traveling Tips from a Backpacking Geek:

No matter how prepared you think you are for your big trip ahead looking over some one else’s tips never hurts. Here are a few ideas from a backpacking geek on how to save digital photos and important documents from being lost forever.

1. Hilarious Hand-Written Airline Complaint:
In need of a good laugh? This has to be one of the funniest complaints I’ve ever seen in regards to that horrible seat next to the lavatory that some ‘poor soul’ gets stuck with on a completely packed flight. In this situation the poor individual decided to share the experience with the airlines in a laugh-out-loud hand-written complaint with pictures. A MUST READ.

Only in OZ: Irwin’s Whale Watching Boat

Visitors to Queensland, Australia will soon be able to sign up for whale watching trips aboard a new boat named in honor of Steve Irwin. The Australia Zoo’s latest venture will depart from Mooloolaba Wharf on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast beginning July 1st.

Steve’s Whale One vessel was named by Irwin’s kids, Bob and Bindi, as a tribute to their dad. The 130-seat boat will offer 360-degree views from large observation decks around the ship, educational talks by on-board biologists and an underwater hydrophone so passengers can hear whale songs.

At yesterday’s dedication, Terri Irwin revealed that it was Steve’s dream “…to be a full-on warrior for whales, to tackle the Japanese harpoons head on.” These educational excursions realize his vision and serve as the latest “weapon” in whale conservation.