Japanese whalers sidestep opponents

9:41 am on 7 January 2016

The Japanese whaling fleet appears to have outwitted long-time nemesis Sea Shepherd, expanding its search area at a time when the conservation activists' resources are stretched.

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Photo: Sea Shepherd Tahiti

Two of its three ships were in the Northern Hemisphere and the Steve Irwin was in Fremantle before sailing to Melbourne to start an anti toothfish-poaching operation.

Sea Shepherd said if the Steve Irwin came across any whalers en route for the toothfish-poachers then it would take action.

But it admitted the size of the area the whaling fleet could be working in was so big it might not have the operating range to effectively deal with it.

Sea Shepherd New Zealand director Michael Lawry called on the government to help fight the annual battle in the Antarctic Ocean.

"We can't just rely on Sea Shepherd to do the work. The countries involved - New Zealand, Australia, all the member states of the UN, IWC - have to stand up."

The departure of the whaling fleet from Japan at the start of December was widely reported.

Since then, there had been an information blackout.

Glenn Inwood, a New Zealand spokesman for the whalers, said he had heard nothing from the whaling fleet either and he presumed things were going well for them.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Japanese Government had publicly declared its intention to take 333 Minke whales.

It added the area it was operating in was the Southern ocean from zero degrees to 120 degrees longitude.

This would cover a huge area from south of the Atlantic Ocean to South of the Eastern Pacific.

An image taken from Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin showing a Japanese harpoon boat on 2 February.

An image taken from Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin showing a Japanese harpoon boat in 2014. Photo: AFP / Eliza Muirhead / Sea Shepherd Australia Ltd

The ministry reiterated its opposition to this action by Japan and said it had taken part in a joint protest to the Japanese Government.

Sea Shepherd said it thought the Japanese fleet would be catching whales already and it called on the New Zealand Government to send a ship down there to stop them.

It said there was a precedent when the New Zealand Government sent a warship into a French nuclear testing area in the Pacific in the 1970s.

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