photo by Scootie (image source: Flickr)

Earlier this month, there was an incident involving the Ady Gil vessel (of the Sea Shepherd fleet) and the Shonan Maru No. 2 (which is with the Japanese whalers). To make a long explanation very short, the Shonan Maru No. 2 rammed the Ady Gil, causing irreparable damage to the vessel and now the Ady Gil is somewhere on the ocean floor. Both sides blame each other for the crash and some form of official intervention is needed.

Now that we are more or less up to speed on things, here is where the update on matters begins. Recently, the Steve Irwin had to dock in Western Australia to refuel. During their time in port, members of the Ady Gil crew met with New Zealand officials to discuss what happened. According to crew member, Laurens de Groot:

“I just came from the interview with the maritime safety authorities in New Zealand. They’re trying to get an objective view on the whole incident and they will come to their conclusions, but it’s pretty obvious to me who did this.” … “I think when you see the footage it kind of speaks for itself. The five of us were on top of the vessel. Our ship was idle; pretty much drifting. We were in no engagement whatsoever at that point. At that point they were absolutely the aggressor, trying to hit and overrun us. There’s no doubt in my head who did it.”

Questioning the crew is only one phase of the investigation. There may be a bit of good news for both the whales and the Sea Shepherd crew in the next phase. You see, commercial whaling was banned in 1986. However, the IWC (International Whaling Commission) allows the hunting of whales for scientific research. Right now, the Japanese are hunting whale in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. This area is supposed to be a protected place for whales and dolphins. Japan—who has been long known for their commercial whaling activities—is believed to be using the “scientific research” excuse as a cover-up for commercial whaling.

So, what exactly is this other phase I am talking about? Australia and New Zealand scientists are planning to head out on their own whale research expedition in the Antarctic. Their purpose is to disprove Japan’s argument that whales must be killed to be studied. The expedition is expected to take approximately 6 weeks. They will be initially setting out to the Ross Sea, located near Antarctica. Once there, the researchers will use darts to remove small amounts of tissue for biopsy sampling. They will also perform satellite tracking and acoustic surveys in order to collect data on whale movement, population genetics, and how the whales interact with the sea ice and ecosystem.

Nick Gates, chief scientist of the expedition and head of the Australian Antarctic Division’s Australian Marine Mammal Center explained that “you can always come up with some question that will require an animal to be killed for something or other, but the question is whether that is a critical issue for the management and conservation of whales”.

Tensions are definitely high between the Japanese, Sea Shepherd, and other parties involved with the situation. It still remains to be seen if any further actions will be taken or charges made. As for the expedition, whether or not it has positive results will most likely not change anyone’s feelings towards whaling. The Japanese will still try to find a way to continue whaling and fortunately, Sea Shepherd will still be there to stop them.

By Heidi Marshall