Meet the Ship Set to Disrupt Whaling in the Antarctic Ocean

How the 170-foot long Steve Irwin plans to stop Japan’s recently launched whale-hunting fleet.

Image via (cc) Flickr user Yosef Silver

Last week a fleet of Japanese whaling vessels set out toward the Antarctic Ocean for that country’s first whaling expedition in over a year, having stopped the practice at the behest of the International Court of Justice in March of 2014. The ships—three harpoon vessels that hunt the whales, and the Nisshin Maru, a massive floating “factory” that processes the carcasses once the animals been killed—are conducting what is described by the Japanese government as a scientific mission, in which 330 minke whales are slated to be killed, ostensibly for the purpose of oceanographic study. It’s a move that has been widely condemned by multiple countries as well as the international scientific community, who argue that the umbrella of “research” is merely a ploy by Japan to circumvent maritime regulations on whaling.

Once they reach their destination, however, the Japanese vessels will not be alone. Meeting them in the Antarctic Ocean will be the Steve Irwin, a 170-foot ship named after the famed wildlife expert and sent by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society with a single mission: Disrupt the Japanese fleet.

It’s a tricky proposition: The Japanese fleet has multiple boats with which they intend to carry out their directive, while the Steve Irwin will be going it alone. But the conservation group has a tried-and-true tactic they’ve used in the past for similar operations. As Jeff Hanson, managing director for Sea Shepherd Australia, explained to Inverse, the plan is to position the Steve Irwin between the Nisshin Maru and the ships doing the hunting. That way, the harpooning vessels will be unable to offload their kills into the larger ship and, accordingly, will be unable to continue hunting until they can do so. “If they can’t load the dead whales, they can’t kill the live ones,” Hanson told the publication.

Here’s what that looks like. Be warned, this video features brief footage of dead whales:

There are, of course, risks. In addition to the physical harm to ship and sailor that can come from maritime jostling, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society this summer agreed to pay over $2.5 million to Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, to settle a 2011 lawsuit between the two organizations over the Society’s tactics. In receiving the fees, the ICR will drop its lawsuit against Society founder Paul Watson, reports Yahoo News.

In fact, while the Steve Irwin may be putting itself on the line to protect the lives of minke whales, the courts may be where this latest whaling foray is ultimately put to an end. In a blog post responding to Japan’s current expedition on the Sea Shepherd website, Watson writes that “the Japanese whalers made a major mistake in bringing their case [against Sea Shepherd] in U.S. federal court, because this gives Sea Shepherd the legal grounds to countersue them.”

For now, though, the Steve Irwin and the Japanese fleet continue toward the Antarctic Ocean—and each other.

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