The Sea Shepherd’s coming of age

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Nisshin Maru and Yushin Maru leaving the Antarctic whale sanctuary after allegedly being chased away by Sea Shepherd boats on January 6, 2014. (Image by Eliza Muirhead via

The Sea Shepherd fleet is again in the Southern Ocean attempting to disrupt the annual Japanese whale hunt, as the Australian Government disappoints with its inaction. This year, writes Chris de Bono, expect to see less high seas hi-jinx from Sea Shepherd crews.

IN POST-ELECTION DECEMBER 2013, Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt, assured the voting public that the Government would honour its election promise to send a Customs vessel to the Antarctic Treaty Zone.

Minister Hunt is quoted as saying:

“We’re just working through some of the operational issues, but the commitment was clear and I stand by it.”

This commitment has since been quietly downgraded to sending a plane instead of a boat and, to date, no-one has seen or heard of any such plane.

After the recent release of photographs and video of whaling activity, the pressure has again mounted on the Australian Government to discontinue the rhetoric and start acting. The difficulty for the Australian Government at the moment is that they don’t have the usual ragtag bunch of hippies putting lives at risk to distract the public from the unpleasant and disturbing images now being sent from the Southern Ocean.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a well-known international, non-profit, environmental ‘Direct-Action’ organisation. The Australian arm of the Society is simply referred to as Sea Shepherd Australia. Sea Shepherd Australia is most easily recognised by its ongoing and often adversarial campaign to stop Japanese whaling fleets from accessing whales in Antarctic waters.

Sea Shepherd Australia sends a fleet of vessels to the Southern Ocean at the commencement of each whaling season, generally to the sound of its own fanfare. This is picked up by the mainstream media as it heralds the prospect of sensationalist headlines, featuring boats being run over, boarded illegally, sinking and so on. Thrown into the mix is the fact that it happens in Antarctica, which is far away and very, very cold. To finish off this story, there is plenty of name calling by both sides with threats of legal action for things that no Australian or International Court really has any interest in or jurisdiction over.

This all makes for a great read and sells papers — but what is really happening and should we be paying more attention?

The Sea Shepherd Australia fleet spends much of their shore respite in Williamstown, Victoria. The residents of Williamstown are largely sympathetic to the Sea Shepherd Australia cause and you can find many businesses proudly displaying Sea Shepherd posters and brochures in their shop windows. Alongside this, the Sea Shepherd crew have the ship open to visitors, where they are provided with a tour of the ship, providing an insight into what it is that Sea Shepherd are trying to achieve each year in Antarctica.

The overarching mantra of the Sea Shepherd organisation is ‘Direct-Action’. There has been plenty of Direct-Action reported in Australian media with clashes between the MY Steve Irwin or MY Bob Barker and the MV Nisshin Maru expected. The aim of these clashes has been to disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet, essentially making it too difficult and uneconomic to remain in Antarctic waters.

Perhaps the most striking take-away message from a tour of the Sea Shepherd fleet is that the crew are mostly young, very passionate about the Sea Shepherd Australia cause, have little to no maritime experience and generally don’t have a strong grasp of their image in the media nor the importance of public relations. Theirs is a utopian world, where as long as they are saving the whales they are making the world a better place and they don’t care what other people think or say about them.

To the credit of the crews that do go to Antarctica, there has been a steady decline in the number of whales the Japanese whaling fleet have been able to capture. This message though, has been lost in the sensationalist reporting at which the mainstream media are so adept. Even the message of what the Japanese whaling fleet are doing in order to capture the whales has been, to a large extent, a by-line to the main story of the adversarial encounters between the Sea Shepherd Australia crews and the Japanese whaling fleets. No one on these voyages has really had the experience to steer the Sea Shepherd story that gets reported in the mainstream media.

In January 2013, it was announced that former Greens Senator Bob Brown would be leading the Sea Shepherd Australia conservation efforts. Media reports described the fugitivePaul Watson stepping aside for legal reasons so that Bob Brown would lead the militant anti-whaling activists’.

The 2013 anti-whaling campaign saw little change in the usual confrontations and tactics employed by Sea Shepherd Australia and, again, despite their shouting it very loudly at every opportunity, their success in reducing the number of whales caught was overshadowed by much more sensational news about what they had been doing that was reckless, perilous, life endangering and ultimately illegal.

This year, however, there is a much more mature message coming from the Sea Shepherd fleet.

It is a message that is delivered with a certain amount of restraint but cuts right to the point. The Japanese are hunting whales, they are doing it in areas that are protected by international law and no matter how it is done, it is brutal and shouldn’t be allowed to continue. This message is being delivered not through media reports of dangerous hi-jinx on the high seas, but through imagery and a considered message. Their latest video can be seen below.

This is a new and more mature Sea Shepherd, without the teenage antics and they are already influencing an uncomfortable amount of public pressure on the Government to act. The imagery of whaling activity is not being overshadowed by sensational pictures of two ships colliding in the Southern Ocean or other equally nonsensical behaviour.

Sea Shepherd Australia, under the guiding hand of Bob Brown, has finally managed to get a coherent and persuasive message out to the Australian public. This is just the beginning of a new and much more persuasive Sea Shepherd Australia, that is finally going to yield results without needlessly endangering lives.

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