The Japanese whaling fleet arrived two weeks late to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. All three Sea Shepherd ships were able to intercept the whaling fleet before any whales were killed on December 31st, 2010. The Nisshin Maru factory ship escaped and fled eastward. Two of the harpoon vessels were assigned to stay on the tails of the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin to prevent the Sea Shepherd ships from closing in on the factory ship. Although this tactic works for the whalers to keep Sea Shepherd from moving in on the factory ship, it comes with the price of removing two of the three harpoon vessels from the hunt for the entire month.
Due to fuel limitations, the Yushin Maru ships had to relieve each other, with the Yushin Maru No. 3 relieving the Yushin Maru in mid January. This had the effect of removing a third harpoon vessel from the hunt for days at a time because the Nisshin Maru had to remain out of helicopter range of the Steve Irwin.
Sea Shepherd has had two of the three harpoon vessels under 24-hour observation for 32 days, during which time these vessels have not killed a single whale. This means the efficiency of the Japanese whale hunting has been cut by two-thirds. The Nisshin Maru could continue whaling with its one available harpoon vessel, but not with 100 percent efficiency because of both ships fleeing eastward, westward, eastwards again, and then south. Due to time spent in waters too far north and on refueling from the factory ship, the greatest amount of time this harpoon vessel could have efficiently operated as a hunter killer vessel is only 25 to 50 percent.
With three harpoon ships, the whaling fleet can usually kill eight to nine whales per day, of course that is when weather, ice conditions, and whale availability allow for this number to be taken. If all three ships were operating to full efficiency in excellent conditions, they could take as many as 240-300 whales during a single month of operations.
By Sea Shepherd removing two of the harpoon ships from the equation, the very most whales that can be taken by the remaining harpoon vessel would be three per day, approximately 90 whales for the month. However, we know that this one harpoon vessel was constantly on the move, or preoccupied by fleeing from or relieving one of the tailing harpoons for 50 to 75 percent of the time. Therefore, we estimate the maximum efficiency to be 50 percent, 25 percent at minimum.
If all conditions were ideal for hunting for this one harpoon vessel, it would still only be able to take 45 whales at most, or more realistically 30 whales, which is still well below their target. However, we believe that this one harpoon vessel only had about five days to conduct its hunting exercises, which would mean only 15 whales killed at maximum. But we will not know the final kill figures until they are released at the end of the hunting season.
Campaign Difficulties and Failures
This is not an easy campaign due to the expanded hunting range, ice, weather, and tails assigned to follow our ships. We have experienced numerous difficulties including the forced retreat of the Gojira for emergency repairs, as well as unforeseen ice conditions. Our major failure was being able to prevent the refueling of the Nisshin Maru.
The Gojira located the Panamanian tanker the Sun Laurel on January 12th, 2011. On January 13th, the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin met up with the Sun Laurel to allow the Gojira to break off to continue the search for the Nisshin Maru. The object was to cut off the refueling ship from the Nisshin Maru. The Sun Laurel fled eastward. On January 18th, the Steve Irwin broke away from the Sun Laurel and was able to lose its tailing harpoon vessel. The Steve Irwin then went in search of the Nisshin Maru because the Gojira was forced to return to Hobart, Tasmania for repairs to its computer and fuel pumps in its new engines. With the Steve Irwin’s limited remaining fuel reserves and knowing that the Sun Laurel was heading too far east to a point of 143 degrees east, Captain Watson requested that Captain Cornelissen drop pursuing the Sun Laurel because once the Nisshin Maru was found, the Bob Barker would not be able to return in time to take up the tail of the factory ship before the Steve Irwin would have to turn back to port to refuel. The Bob Barker dropped chasing the Sun Laurel but not before planting a tracking device on it. The distance back to the Steve Irwin from the Sun Laurel was 1200 nautical miles. Reports from New Zealand suggested that the whalers were looking into chartering a tanker out of New Zealand while the Sun Laurel led the Bob Barker further and further to the east.
On January 26th, the Steve Irwin found the Nisshin Maru and gave chase. Unfortunately, the Nisshin Maru smashed its way through dangerously thick ice in desperation to escape Sea Shepherd. The Steve Irwin could not physically pursue after the Nisshin Maru due to these dangerous ice conditions.
The tracker on the Sun Laurel indicated that the tanker was heading back southwest, which meant that the Nisshin Maru would be heading towards it to refuel. Everything looked good for the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker to intercept the Sun Laurel before the Nisshin Maru could reach it, except for one unpredictable factor…ice!
The two Sea Shepherd ships, each with a harpoon vessel tail, the Steve Irwin picked up a tail again when it found the Nisshin Maru, had time to cover the distance before the Nisshin Maru met up with the Sun Laurel. The problem was ice. Despite the ice charts confirming the path was clear, both the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin lost a great deal of time working through broad bands of heavy floe ice.
By the time the two ships broke through, still with their harpooner tails, the Nisshin Maru had already refueled. It was our one major failure during this year’s campaign.
On January 30th, the Bob Barker resumed the search for the Nisshin Maru, and engaged in a confrontation with the Yushin Maru No. 3 the next day in an attempt to slow down and lose the tailing vessel. The Steve Irwin headed back towards New Zealand with the Yushin Maru No. 2 on its tail.
The Situation for February
The Gojira has returned to the Southern Ocean and will resume scouting for the Nisshin Maru. The Bob Barker will continue to pursue the Nisshin Maru, while keeping the Yushin Maru No. 3 occupied. The Yushin Maru No. 2 will take a few days to return to the Nisshin Maru, and hopefully the Gojira will have located the factory ship by then.
The Steve Irwin will refuel in Wellington, New Zealand, and should be back in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by mid February with fresh provisions for the Bob Barker and the Gojira crews.
The Steve Irwin will have enough fuel to last through the end of the whaling season at the end of March. The Bob Barker with her much larger fuel capacity, will also be able to remain on site until the end of March. The Gojira can refuel from the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin and can also remain present until the end of March.
January has proven to be an excellent month for Sea Shepherd during this campaign. Our objective is to continue interventions to make February just as successful. One harpooner will be out of the hunt for sure as it continues to tail the Bob Barker. The second harpoon vessel will take three to four days to return to the Nisshin Maru. The Gojira should find the Nisshin Maru soon, and will be in a position to guide the Bob Barker to the factory ship. The Steve Irwin will lose its tail before reaching New Zealand, and will be able to return to the whale sanctuary without a tail.
The Japanese whaling fleet is getting to be an irritation for the Japanese Fisheries Agency. The whalers are demanding more subsidies to compensate for their inability to fill their quotas. The Japanese economy is seemingly unhealthy, and the whaling industry has been scandalized with charges of corruption including bribery and embezzlement.
This could be the last season that Sea Shepherd will have to send its fleet down to the Southern Ocean. We hope this is the case, but if the Japanese whalers return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in December 2011, they will find us waiting for them once again.
We will drive these whale poachers out of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by sinking them economically.
The tide has turned against them, and if we return at the end of the year, it will be stronger than this year just as every year since we began our voyages here in 2002. We have increased our resources, fine-tuned our skills, and learned from our experiences.
Once we succeed in driving the Japanese whale poachers from the Southern Ocean, our objective of making the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary a genuine whale sanctuary will be realized.