The so-called whale wars saga, featuring Japanese harpooners claiming to be conducting important research and activists who have made high-seas harassment into a science, has been playing out in the Southern Ocean for one week.
Crews with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society spotted two harpoon boats on New Year's Eve and both sides have since been playing cat-and-mouse, with the activists tossing stink bombs and trying to disable the whaling boats by throwing ropes onto their propellers.
Sea Shepherd is implying that things are going its way, and that seems to be the case.
But while the activists also claim to be pursuing the whaling factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, and one other harpoon boat, the Yushin Maru No. 1, they had not -- as of Friday morning in the Southern Ocean -- sighted those vessels since Sea Shepherd's helicopter crew caught a fleeting glimpse of the factory ship on New Year's eve.
Could it be, then, that the two harpoon boats Sea Shepherd has been skirmishing with for the past week are merely decoys, sent to keep Sea Shephrd busy while whaling is practiced elsewhere by crews aboard the other two boats?
Sea Shepherd's latest news release states, "The Nisshin Maru and one other harpoon vessel the Yushin Maru No. 1 have fled for over 1,200 miles since the discovery of the fleet on December 31st. It is doubtful they have had time to slow down to catch any whales."
In other words, it remains unclear whether they've killed whales because Sea Shepherd has not found them.
This is not to diminish the effect Sea Shepherd has had in its annual campaigns against Japan's yearly effort to kill 900-plus minke whales and 10 fin whales in the Antarctic region.
Sea Shepherd has seriously hampered the effort and top Japanese officials have acknowledged as much, according to diplomatic cables posted earlier this week on the WikiLeaks website.
According to those secret transmissions, Japan and the U.S. even discussed ways of punishing Sea Shepherd as part of a compromise deal that would result in Japan reducing its quota but being allowed to legally conduct commercial whaling in the same region.
Japan currently takes advantage of a lethal-research loophole in the wording of a ban on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.
This season, for the first time in seven campaigns, Sea Shepherd encountered whaling vessels before any kills were made. But the Yushin Maru Nos. 2 and 3 are only part of the fleet.
It'd be interesting to learn what, in fact, is happening aboard the Nisshin Maru and whether the Yushin Maru No. 1 has logged any kills for the mother ship -- in the name of science, of course.
-- Pete Thomas
Video is courtesy of Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research