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Japanese whaling fleet combats Sea Shepherd activists in Antarctic

February 2, 2009 | 11:31 am

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The war over whaling is back on in the Antarctic, where the Japanese fleet apparently has begun to aggressively oppose Sea Shepherd Conservation Society crews trying to disrupt efforts to kill whales.

Sea Shepherd claims two crew members were injured during a Sunday confrontation: one by a high-powered water cannon and the other by a hurled metal ball that struck him in the face. Sea Shepherd also accused the whalers of using a "military-grade" acoustic weapon.

The whalers claimed they were merely trying to repel activists who hurled bottles of rotten butter or paint aboard their ship.

Said Sea Shepherd in a statement posted on its website: "The factory ship the Nisshin Maru and the two harpoon vessels in the fleet are equipped with long-range acoustical devices. This is a military grade weapon system that sends out mid to high frequency sound waves designed to disorient and possibly incapacitate personnel."

Japan reportedly has asked embassies in Australia and New Zealand as well as the Netherlands, the nationality of Sea Shepherd's ship -- to work toward preventing a similar incident.

Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for Japan's government-backed Institute of Cetacean Research, was quoted by Australia's national AAP news agency as saying "all legal means available will be used to ensure these pirates do not board Japanese ships or threaten the lives of the crews or the safety of the vessels."

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Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson said Sunday's confrontation was successful in that it prevented more whales from being killed.

"It is a very dramatic scene out here as ships zig-zag back and forth in thick ice and heavy swells," Watson said in a statement. "The whalers are deploying water cannons, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons, and throwing solid brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd crew members.

"If we were to do any of the things these thugs are doing, we would be denounced as eco-terrorists. There certainly is a double standard where whale killers can use violence without fear of condemnation from their government and we can't even defend ourselves without condemnation from our governments."

Japan annually targets about 1,000 minke whales using a "lethal research" loophole in a 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling.

--Pete Thomas

Photos courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

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