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Will Japan Surrender or Escalate the Whale Wars in the Southern Ocean?

Will Japan surrender or escalate the Whale WarsWill the Japanese whaling fleet return to the Southern Ocean? Logic, the law, and practicality suggest that they will not. However when it comes to whaling, the Japanese government does not act practically, legally and rationally, and thus the future of whaling in the Southern Ocean is unpredictable at this stage.

This week, there was a hint that Japan would once again throw reason to the wind with the report of the Japanese government looking into sending a Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessel to the Southern Ocean to defend the Japanese whaling fleet from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported the fisheries ministry has asked the coast guard to dispatch a boat to protect the whaling fleet during this upcoming season's hunt. But the Japanese Coast Guard is being more practical than the ministry of fisheries has reported; they are reluctant to partake citing they have no legal basis to do so.

If the Japanese whaling fleet returns to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary they will be increasing their debt with further subsidies from the Japanese government. And in addition to flagrantly violating international conservation laws, they will also be in violation of the new law issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that prohibits heavy fuel from being used below the 60th parallel south.

Sea Shepherd’s long-range pursuit vessel, the Bob Barker, is currently in Australia, fully refitted, and ready to depart at a moment’s notice to the Southern Ocean. The flagship Steve Irwin and the Brigitte Bardot are en route to the North Atlantic to defend pilot whales in the Faeroe Islands. Both ships however, will be able to return to the Southern Ocean in October well ahead of the start of the whaling season.

Sea Shepherd is also investigating the use of an additional fourth, fast, ice strengthened vessel to be ready to tackle the Japanese whalers and any Japanese Coast Guard vessels, should they decide to escort the poaching fleet.

The introduction of a Japanese Coast Guard vessel will create some interesting political dilemmas for Japan and Australia and for the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty as military vessels are prohibited in the Antarctic Treaty Zone.

Sea Shepherd Founder and President, Captain Paul Watson is hopeful that the Japanese whaling fleet will not return to the Southern Ocean in December but if they do, Sea Shepherd will be ready to obstruct them yet again. “We are cautiously optimistic,” said Captain Watson, “But we are making preparations to return to Antarctica - just in case.”

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