Outdoors, action, adventure

Category: Whale-watching

Sea Shepherd crew being watched closely by Japanese whale hunters

Watson1 Capt. Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society crew are only three days into their mission to locate the Japanese whaling fleet and disrupt its annual Antarctic region hunt, and they themselves have been located and are being watched.

Watson reported that an unidentified aircraft -- a possible spotter plane -- had circled the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin and that a white harpoon vessel began following the Steve Irwin from just beyond Australia's 200-mile boundary.

Watson changed course several times, and each time, he said, the harpoon vessel followed suit. “It looks like we have an escort to Antarctica,” Watson said on the group's website.

Watson added that he believed the fleet of whaling ships was accompanied this year by a security force. If that's true, this season's installment of Animal Planet's popular "Whale Wars" series could be the most dramatic yet.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Paul Watson. Credit: Adam Lau / Sea Shepherd

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Entangled humpback whale off Maui finally freed

Officials disentangle a juvenile humpback whale from yellow plastic rope caught in its mouth. The 35-foot-long yearling was freed from the life-threatening rope Sunday.

A juvenile humpback whale entangled in hundreds of feet of heavy-duty polypropylene rope was finally freed on Sunday.

As reported last week in Outposts, the mammal was first spotted off Maui by the crew of a whale-watching vessel, Ocean Explorer of the Pacific Whale Foundation.

A team with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary had been trying to free the animal since last Tuesday, when team members fixed a transmitter to the rope for tracking purposes.

Assisted by members from the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the team was able to attach a sea anchor to the mammal, slowing it and keeping it near the surface. They were then able to approach close enough to cut the entangling lines using specialized equipment.

After all the gear was removed, the whale appeared to be in good shape, and swam away with its mother and another whale.

Ed Lyman, marine mammal response manager for the sanctuary, said that the rope could have killed the whale because it could interfere with its ability to feed, as it was wrapped around the whale's mouth.

I'm glad this whale tale ended on a positive note, and hopefully the young leviathan did not sustain any life-threatening injuries from its ordeal.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: Officials disentangle a juvenile humpback whale from yellow plastic rope caught in its mouth. The 35-foot-long yearling was freed from the life-threatening rope Sunday. Credit: NOAA

New 'Whale Wars' season begins as Sea Shepherd seeks Japanese fleet

Capt. Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society embarked Monday in an effort to locate Japanese whalers in the Antarctic region and disrupt their hunts.

The campaign also marked the beginning of Animal Planet's third season of "Whale Wars." For the third time, a film crew has joined Sea Shepherd in a Southern Ocean campaign that will last into February. The series premiere will be in June.

Is Animal Planet in this for the cause, or purely for the ratings?

Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet, said in a news release being issued today: "The issues surrounding whaling in the southern ocean are important and complex. The majesty of these beautiful creatures and the lengths to which the Sea Shepherds will go in order to prevent whaling has made WHALE WARS intense and vital television. 

"We are excited to be on the Sea Shepherd boats again this season for what looks likely to be an even more dramatic campaign than in years past.  And, as in prior seasons, we wish we could capture the experience on the Japanese boats as well but our request for access continues to be declined.”

Japan, which employs a "lethal research" loophole in the wording of an international moratorium to justify its hunts, annually targets nearly 1,000 minke whales and about 50 endangered fin whales.

It will take awhile for the Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel, Steve Irwin, to reach the whaling grounds and locate the whalers, but Outposts will follow the story and provide updates as warranted.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sea Shepherd's ship, Steve Irwin, collides with the stern of Japanese harpoon whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 2, while the factory ship the Nisshin Maru, background, processes a minke whale. Credit: Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd

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Humpback whale remains entangled, but with less rope, off Maui

A young humpback whale, pictured on Tuesday, is being tracked by experts after becoming entangled in up to 500 feet of heavy-duty polypropylene rope off Maui.

Humpback whales that migrate into Hawaiian waters for the winter support a thriving whale-watching industry, but it seems that every season there's a heart-wrenching tale involving a whale -- or multiple whales -- paying the price for so much human activity around the islands.

This usually involves vessel strikes; there are a few each season, sometimes even involving whale-watching vessels. But there also are occasional entanglements, including one that currently has a young whale in dire straights but under close watch between Maui and Molokai.

It involves a 30- to 35-foot humpback, believed to be 2 to 5 years old, discovered Tuesday wrapped with up to 500 feet of heavy-duty polypropylene rope, part of which is still in the whale's mouth, making the situation life-threatening. The entangled whale was spotted by the crew of a whale-watching vessel, Ocean Explorer of the Pacific Whale Foundation.

A team with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on Tuesday fixed a transmitter to the rope for tracking purposes. Attempts to free the whale failed Tuesday because of rough conditions and on Wednesday the tracking device came off the whale with a clump of rope, Ed Lyman, marine mammal response manager for the sanctuary, told Outposts.

The good news, Lyman added, is that the whale was relocated and another transmitter package was placed on the mammal, and it appeared to be trailing significantly less line than before, thanks to grapple efforts during the previous rescue attempt.

The bad news was that the line was still wrapped around the whale's head. Another attempt to free the whale will occur today, conditions permitting.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A young humpback whale, pictured on Tuesday, is being tracked by experts after becoming entangled in up to 500 feet of heavy-duty polypropylene rope off Maui. Credit: Associated Press

Sea Shepherd to embark next week on mission to thwart Japanese whale hunt


The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will launch "Operation Waltzing Matilda,"  its name for this season's campaign against Japanese whaling, next Monday from Fremantle, Australia.

Sea Shepherd will hold a fundraiser in Fremantle on Wednesday to garner support for the controversial group's sixth mission against whalers from Japan, who are currently en route to the Antarctic region for a prolonged assault that will target 935 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales.

Past Sea Shepherd campaigns have led to tense confrontations and this year's will feature a new twist in the form of a futuristic-looking trimaran named Ady Gil. The speedy vessel, which can travel at 50 knots, will operate from the mother ship Steve Irwin and be used "to intercept and physically block the harpoon ships from illegally slaughtering whales," according to a Sea Shepherd news release.

It'll be interesting to see how the whalers respond to this sleek weapon being utilized by Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson, who claims his group saved 305 whales last season with harassment techniques carried out largely aboard inflatable outboard vessels. 

Japan's annual hunts are conducted as scientific missions and the whalers operate under a "lethal research" loophole in the wording of an international moratorium against commercial whaling, enacted in 1986.

(It may or may not be coincidental that Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research was established a year later, in 1987.)

Operation Waltzing Matilda, like the past two campaigns, will be filmed for Animal Planet's popular "Whale Wars" series.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo of the Ady Gil courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Japan embarks on annual whale hunt--can Sea Shepherd be far behind?


Whaling ships from Japan left today for Antarctic waters on an annual five-month voyage in pursuit of about 1,000 minke whales and a small number of endangered fin whales.

The seasonal hunts, during the Antarctic summer, are highly controversial. They're carried out in the name of research but the meat is sold in Japanese markets and restaurants and whatever research is conducted has been deemed questionable and unnecessary by many scientists outside Japan.

Australia and New Zealand, closest to the whaling region, have spoken out against the hunts, but to no avail.

Enter the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its devoted captain, Paul Watson, who himself is controversial and labeled a terrorist by the Japanese. Sea Shepherd is making final preparations for "Operation Waltzing Matilda," its name for this year's harassment campaign against the whalers.

It will again involve a crew from Animal Planet for its popular "Whale Wars" series. The series has thrust Sea Shepherd into the spotlight and made a hero of Watson and his vegan crew, in the eyes of some. Watson has won many volunteer recruits because of the series.

But with another potentially violent and dangerous conflict soon to begin, Greenpeace International is claiming that an end to Japanese whaling is close on the  horizon because of the bad economy.

It reports that a government review committee has proposed substantial cuts in subsidies to various programs, including the whaling research program. Without government subsidies, Greenpeace maintains, "the whaling program would be doomed."

Time will tell. Meanwhile, exploding harpoons will tear into the flesh of unsuspecting cetaceans, water cannons will blast from ship to ship, bottles full of rancid butter will be heaved aboard the whaling vessels, and collisions might occur.

Watson will again be hailed and chastised; people seem to either cherish or despise him. He routinely brushes aside the criticism, saying that he's only interested in costing the whaling fleet money and saving as many whales as possible each year.

My guess is that he has come to enjoy the "Whale Wars" spotlight, also.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sea Shepherd crew members are hosed by crewmen aboard a Japanese harpoon vessel during last year's effort to harass the whalers. Credit: Stephen Roest / Sea Shepherd

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter please visit @latimesoutposts

Sea Shepherd unveils futuristic vessel as weapon against Japanese whaling

Earthrace, now named Ady Gil, will be used during Sea Shepherd's upcoming campaign against Japan's annual whaling effort. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society held a fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday and unveiled the Ady Gil: a sleek and speedy trimaran that is expected to bolster the group's effort against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean below Australia.

Formerly named Earthrace, the vessel is powered by biodiesel and can reach speeds of 50 knots and deflect harpoons. It was renamed to reflect its benefactor, Ady Gil, who helped acquire the futuristic-looking boat.

Sea Shepherd will launch its sixth campaign against the Japanese whalers in December from Australia, using the flagship Steve Irwin and the Ady Gil to disrupt efforts by whalers to kill and process minke and fin whales. 

It would be interesting to see the expressions on the faces of the whalers when they first glimpse the Ady Gil.

Japan hunts the whales annually in the Antarctic region using a research loophole in the wording of an international moratorium on whaling.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Earthrace, now named Ady Gil, will be used during Sea Shepherd's upcoming campaign against Japan's annual whaling effort. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Boy, 9, harpoons whale off Barrow, Alaska

Whaling for subsistence is part of the native culture in Barrow, Alaska. Still, news that a 9-year-old boy this week harpooned a 33-foot whale might be unsettling to some.

The Anchorage Daily News reported the story on a blog and details are sparse. But the story implied that it's rare for a boy to be allowed to join a whale hunt, much less deal the telling blow.

Here's the account, shared by Barrow resident Bridget Edwardsen:

On Tuesday around noon, Panigeo crew struck a whale. Pauyuuraq Brower of Barrow shot the whale with the darting gun. Then Paul Patkotak, 9-year-old son of Maria & Ellis Patkotak, harpooned the bowhead whale and officially killed the whale.Whale2_0.img_assist_custom

Paul is a 4th grader at Ipalook Elementary School & is very into his culture. He loves to go whaling with his uncle Qulliuq Pebley, who is the Captian of Panigeo Crew, he loves to go subsistance hunting and camping. The family was overjoyed in tears when they heard that their 9-year-old Paul harpooned the 32' 7" whale.

This is big news for Barrow, usually kids are not allowed on the boat until they are a certain age. I think Paul is the youngest kid to actually harpoon & kill a bowhead whale. Once they arrived & beached the whale, the family was overjoyed. His mother could not believe that her son actually caught the whale.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Paul Patkotak. Credit: Barrow resident Bridget Edwardsen

Sea Shepherd's frustrated Capt. Paul Watson lashes out at Australia


The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's planned mission this winter against the Japanese whaling effort has hit a snag because Capt. Paul Watson and his first officer are experiencing visa issues and so far are not being allowed into Australia.

Outposts reported on this Monday. Australia is the strategic point of departure for Sea Shepherd, which annually hunts and harasses the Japanese harpoon and factory vessels as their crews seek to kill minke whales in the Antarctic region during its summer.

Watson claims politics are behind the stringent visa requirements he's being asked to comply with and on Tuesday posted a letter on the Sea Shepherd website blasting Australia's government for its stance on whaling and for trying to "sabotage" the Sea Shepherd campaign.

Here's the controversial captain's letter:

By Captain Paul Watson

Way back in October 2007, I had urged thousands of Australians to vote for Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett’s Labor Party. Why? Because they promised to get tough on illegal Japanese whaling. They promised to take Japan to court. They promised to send a ship down to the Southern Ocean to monitor the illegal activities. They had severely criticized the former Howard government for not doing enough.

Since then Rudd and Garrett have demonstrated that they have done far less for the whales than former Environment Minister Ian Campbell had done.

Continue reading »

Whale wars saga begins with Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson under investigation


The hype has begun well in advance of another round of the annual war over whaling between the Japanese  and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The former group is preparing for its impending seasonal hunt of mostly minke whales, with a quota of about 1,000 specimens it says are being killed for research purposes. The latter group is preparing for "Operation Waltzing Matilda," which will try to thwart the Japanese effort in and near the Antarctic region during its summer season.

Of course, a crew from Animal Planet will accompany Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson, its famous -- or infamous, depending on your viewpoint -- captain, to gather footage for a third season of the popular "Whale Wars" series.

But will Watson's campaign actually get underway? The Brisbane Times is reporting that Watson's police and court records are being evaluated before he's allowed to enter Australia, which is the starting point for his annual campaigns.

Specifically, Watson, who holds a U.S. passport, is being reviewed because of Sea Shepherd claims that it sank whaling ships in Norway. 

Watson claims politics are behind all of this and is quoted as saying, ''I am not wanted on any warrants [and] I have never received a felony conviction.''

Ironically, the Australian government is trying to persuade Japan to halt its commercial whaling effort (research notwithstanding, the meat  is sold commercially). Japan, meanwhile, has been trying to persuade Australia to help prevent Sea Shepherd from disrupting its hunts and endangering the lives of its crews.

The Australian Federal Police is still reviewing seized video and ship records after last year's campaign, which was dramatic and confrontational. That investigation reportedly was prompted by complaints from Japan.

Watson had hoped to be with Sea Shepherd and its flagship vessel, Steve Irwin, this week as it begins a promotional tour of capital cities. He still plans on being along for the campaign, but it will be no waltz.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo of Capt. Paul Watson courtesy of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter visit @latimesoutposts

Volunteer docents sought for upcoming migration of Pacific gray whales


The recent change of weather is a reminder that fall is here and winter is not far off. That means it won't be long before Pacific gray whales begin their southbound migration.

For those who'd like to become more closely involved with the migration and help others enjoy the whale-watching experience, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro is holding its first orientation meeting for docents Tuesday from 7-9 p.m.

Volunteer docents meet every Tuesday for classes, lectures and other training in a casual, friendly atmosphere. During the first meeting program director Larry Fukuhara will give the orientation while Bernardo Alps, president of the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles Chapter, will share a PowerPoint presentation on whale watching during the last six months.

Alps' presentation will include killer whales in Monterey Bay, lunge feeding humpback and blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel, the wayward juvenile gray whale that paused for a while in Marina del Rey and a Guadalupe fur seal at Cabrillo Beach.

Everyone is welcome but prospective docents must be college-age or older. The aquarium is located at 3720 Stephen M. White Dr. in San Pedro. For details call (310) 548-8397 or email cabrillowhalewatch@gmail.com.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A Pacific gray whale breaks the surface off San Simeon in this file photo. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Sea Shepherd boat to tour Australia before mission against Japanese whaling

Steve Irwin docked in Hobart, Australia.

Capt. Paul Watson and his ragtag vegan crew are about 90 days from embarking on another controversial campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet in and near the Antarctic.

But early next month, to drum up support for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's sixth such mission, Watson will guide the group's flagship vessel, Steve Irwin, on a tour of Australian ports.

The vessel will open for tours and the crew will share stories about what these campaigns entail; perhaps they'll discuss the controversial methods employed while trying to spare whales from exploding harpoons--like tossing bottle of rancid butter at the whalers.

For those who live Down Under, tour dates are as follows: Sydney–Oct. 5-12 at Circular Quay; Hobart–Oct. 16-22 at Macquarie Wharf; Fremantle–Nov. 4-Dec. 7 at C Berth.

For anyone considering joining up with Sea Shepherd, here's the job description: "No pay, long hours, hard work, dangerous conditions, extreme weather. Guaranteed: Adventure, fulfillment, and the hardest work you will ever love. The experience of a lifetime."

These campaigns have gained widespread notoriety thanks to Animal Planet and its "Whale Wars" series. The shows take viewers along for the ride as the Sea Shepherd crew hunts down the Japanese fleet and disrupts hunts that annually target about 1,000 minke whales and a small number of endangered fin whales.

The series also has served as a valuable recruitment tool for Sea Shepherd, a group that seems to be either despised or admired. Critics point out that Japan's hunts are legal and that Watson's questionable antics will get someone killed. But supporters maintain that Japan is hunting whales via a research loophole in the wording of an international moratorium on whaling, and that profit, not research, drives the whaling effort. If most of the world is against whaling, why is Japan still slaughtering the intelligent mammals?

From the sidelines, these annual confrontations are entertaining, to say the least. That's why Animal Planet jumped aboard two campaigns ago. Season 1 was boring, Season 2 was action-packed and it's anyone's guess how Season 3 will turn out, but it will not be lacking in drama.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Steve Irwin docked in Hobart, Australia. Credit:  Adam Lau / Sea Shepherd

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter please visit @latimesoutposts


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About the Bloggers
Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.