The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society surrounds Japan's whaling fleet
Japan's whaling fleet on the run
Hunted ... the anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin pursues the Japanese whaling fleet earlier this month. Photo: AFP
The future of Japan's Antarctic industry hangs in the balance, writes Andrew Darby.
IN THE shadows of intent, somewhere between harmless fireworks and deadly force, lies the whaling conflict in the Antarctic.
At one end of this spectrum are the stink bombs thrown against water jets. At the other is the near fatal collision involving the Ady Gil.
Among all this piratical colour and movement, decisive moments of a decades-long struggle can pass little noticed.
Sea Shepherd's Gojira pursues Japanese Antarctic whale research vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 in Antarctic waters earlier this month. Photo: Reuters/Sea Shepherd
Such was the case last week when a bizarre fleet manoeuvre formed in the Southern Ocean.
Three black ships of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society took up positions around a red fuel tanker and escorted it out of the Antarctic. Skulking in their wakes were two of the three harpoon-equipped whale hunter ships in the Japanese fleet.
The hunter ships had been tagging the black ships for two weeks, instead of harpooning whales.
Sea Shepherd's Neptune's Navy had tracked them down on New Year's Eve, only hours after they reached their whaling grounds.
The factory ship Nisshin Maru, together with the third harpoon boat, gave the activists the slip. But the two hunters were ordered to keep tabs on Sea Shepherd, presumably to inform the Nisshin Maru so it could keep clear.
Now that the Sea Shepherd ships had locked on to the tanker Sun Laurel, the conservationists claimed to have found the fleet's Achilles heel. If Nisshin Maru could not refuel, Japan's whalers would have to cut their season short.
Neptune's Navy came one step closer to ruling the waves.
It was further evidence that, after spending 23 years killing about 10,000 Antarctic minkes in the name of science, Japan's whalers are increasingly embattled.
They have seen the collapse of International Whaling Commission talks that might have given them a legitimate Antarctic kill, and taken a series of hits at home.Read more at www.smh.com.au