It’s five days until Christmas for environmental activists in the Antarctic Oceans. Most of them have sacrificed annual quality time with their families in their warm, safe homes this year. Instead, they’ve opted to sail around the southern oceans in wet, stormy, and extremely cold conditions in the hopes of tracking and stopping illegal whaling. A noble cause, many would say, but one that comes with few perks — except for one. The one Christmas present they wanted came early this year. The activists onboard the Sea Shepherd vessel, the M/Y Steve Irwin, found a whaling ship this morning.
At 10:15am on Saturday, December 20th, activists onboard the Sea Shepherd’s ship spotted an unidentified vessel on radar. They believed that the vessel they spotted was a whaling ship; their aim this winter is to stop illegal whaling in the southern oceans and they had their first opportunity to do just that this morning.
The Steve Irwin aimed to intercept the mystery target but faced a beast of a storm, with 20-foot swells in the ocean, 50 mile per hour winds, blinding hail, and a mine-field of floating ice. Astonishingly, in less than an hour, they found the ship: it was one of the harpoon vessels of the Japanese whaling fleet — the Yushin Maru 2. The same ship that two Sea Shepherd activists had boarded a year previous to give the whalers a letter notifying them that their actions were illegal. An action that kept the activists hostage on the ship for two days, and stirred an international incident.
But this year would be different. The Yushin Maru was prepared for Sea Shepherd. Readying for an interception once Sea Shepherd’s ship was visible to them, whalers instantly began deploying a large net across the starboard side of their vessel disabling a second-year boarding from happening.
“[As they readied the net,] they were smiling at us, it was like they know our game and are playing it now,” said Amber Paarman, a 24-year old South African activist onboard.
The Sea Shepherds responded by sending out a Zodiac, their small high-speed inflatable, to throw rancid butter onto the decks of the harpoon ship. In an attempt to stink the decks of the Yushin Maru, making it impossible to kill any whales without contamination. The Irwin vessel continued onwards to chase the Yushin. But due to worsening weather conditions, with swells growing to 40 feet high, the Zodiac was called to return and the chase ended.
Heading due north in the direction of the Yushin, Captain Paul Watson called their bluff and is continuing elsewhere in the direction of the whaling fleet.
“They did this to us last year,” says Watson. “They send one ship in an entirely different direction of where the whaling fleet is as a decoy hoping to fool us while the fleet heads elsewhere. But not this year. I call their bluff. We’re not following their trickery.”
Sea Shepherd is continuing to patrol the southern oceans in hopes that they are close to the whaling fleet. They intend to cease illegal whaling in the Antarctic waters using any and all means that do not injure human lives.
The battle for the whales has begun.
Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.