(CBS/AP) The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society appears to have won the latest round in their worldwide campaign against commercial whaling by blockading a Japanese "factory ship" in the Antarctic. After a weeks-long campaign, the Japanese whalers have reportedly been chased out and forced to flee.
Over the past two weeks, two Sea Shepherd speedboats, the Gojira and the Bob Barker, have been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet in the icy seas off Antarctica, trying to block Japan's annual whale hunt, planned for up to 945 whales.
Japan has halted the hunt since Feb. 10 after persistent "violent" disruptions by the anti-whaling protesters, said fisheries agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku. Alex Cornelissen, captain of the Bob Barker, told BBC World Service via satellite phone, "there is nothing violent about what we are doing here."
In what Australian paper The Sydney Morning Herald calls a "skirmish", the Gojira and Bob Barker attempted to blockade the factory ship Nisshan Maru by closely following behind it. By staying so close to the massive, the speedboats prevented it from taking on whales.
Japan's Institue of Cetacean Research, a major organization in Japan's whaling industry, claims the Gojira launched smoke bombs, grappling ropes, and incendiary devices at the Nisshin Maru. Gojira's captian, Locky MacLean, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Nisshin Maru at one point "bore down" on his speedboat, a game of chicken barely averted due to ice flows in the Antarctic waters. As of Tuesday, the Nisshan Maru has left the whaling grounds. The Sea Shepherds claim the factory ship is over 1000 nautical miles from their hunting ground.
The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban, but opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.
Since 1981, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has used their passion for marine protection and unorthodox tactics to combat whaling operations worldwide. Their original efforts were mainly against Soviet Union whalers in the Pacific, but have since expanded their focus to include other forms of marine mammals around the globe. The Sea Shepherd group has been shadowing Japan's whaling fleet for several years, and its campaign has drawn high-profile donor support in the United States and elsewhere and spawned the popular Animal Planet series "Whale Wars."