Since 2005, Sea Shepherd has been working on the frontline of conservation in the Southern Ocean, using their ships to confront and disturb the vessels of Japanese whalers.
On Sunday, the strident marine conservation group announced they will stop sending ships to the Southern Ocean in Antarctica because they can’t keep up with the technology of Japanese whalers. Although they will stop direct action against whaling vessels, they say they will continue to work towards stopping whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.
Sea Shepherd claims that Japan is now using military surveillance and satellite technology to keep tabs on its ships’ movements. This means that the whaling ships are able to avoid Sea Shepherds’ vessels with ease.
“The Japanese whalers not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic superpower,” Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd's founder, said in a statement on Sunday.
“Sea Shepherd, however, is limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.”
Japan has also introduced a series of new anti-terrorism laws, making some of Sea Shepherd's tactics technically illegal. The Japanese government has previously branded Sea Shepherd as “eco-terrorists” and attempted to place Captain Watson on an Interpol watch-list.
Last year, Japanese ships returned from the Antarctic Ocean after slaughtering 333 whales, the majority of which were believed to be pregnant females. Japan's whaling operations have ignited huge international opposition. In 2016, the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US signed a joint statement condemning whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.
However, in the statement, these governments also criticized the “dangerous, reckless, or unlawful behaviour” of protest groups such as Sea Shepherd. Although some of Sea Shepherd's more controversial tactics, such as disabling ship's propellers or cutting nets, have attracted criticism throughout the years, the conservationists remain confident their work was done for the right reasons.
"The Japanese whalers have been exposed, humiliated and most importantly have been denied thousands of lives that we have spared from their deadly harpoons. Thousands of whales are now swimming and reproducing that would now be dead if not for our intervention,” said Captain Watson.
"And perhaps more significantly than anything else, there are now voices in the Japanese government opposing the continuation of whaling. Our efforts have been like acupuncture needles stuck into Japanese society, probing and provoking responses."
"We have exposed the incredible waste of money, the corruption and the shame this dirty business has brought to all the Japanese people. Our efforts have been so significant that one Japanese official said that Japan has two enemies – China and Sea Shepherd!"