After leaving the search and recovery scene of the Japanese whaling fleet’s missing man, Sea Shepherd headed for Australia. The plan was to refuel within 48 hours and return to the southern ocean to stop illegal whaling vessels. The trip back to land became a little more complicated as the Steve Irwin was tailed by a spy ship.
Late last year, on December 7th the spy ship was confirmed to be the ‘Yushin Maru No. 3,’ a harpoon ship in the Japanese whaling fleet. Most likely, it was sent by the fleet to track the Irwin’s position to try to gain the upper hand by making the anti-hunters into the hunted.
A year ago, the tactical move of the ‘spy ship’ had been first used by the fleet sending the Fuki Yoshi out to the high seas. The Fuki Yoshi had no purpose to the fleet — it was not a harpoon ship, a spotter vessel, assisting to or acting as a processing ship. Its sole purpose appeared to be a sort of protest tracker ship, following such groups as the Sea Shepherds in their anti-whaling campaign.
Declaring harassment, the captain and founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, maneuvered to end the reversal of roles. Up until last year, Sea Shepherd has been the stalker while the whalers have been the stalked — not the other way around. Watson hid the ‘Irwin’ behind an iceberg wall readying the crew and ship for a surprise attack. Within minutes the ship’s two Zodiacs, the small high-speed inflatable boats, were deployed. The mission of the crew on the Zodiacs were to spray the harpoon ship with stink cans, dyes and a slippery substance. These moves would contaminate the decks of the whaling ship and make it impossible for them to hunt any whales for days, perhaps weeks.
The Irwin’s helicopter hovered over the Yushin Maru taking aerial photography and reporting on the whalers’ actions. At 1300 hours, the pilot reported that the Yushin was returning to the fleet before the Zodiacs could reach them. The Sea Shepherds had gained their hunter status again. The Zodiacs were sent back to the Irwin as a storm was moving in, and the helicopter also returned as eight meter swells, a fog bank and volatile winds took over. With no further spy ships on radar the Sea Shepherds continued onwards toward land.
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.