Sea Shepherd Takes Strategic Pause From Hunting Japanese Whalers

The past two years have been tough going for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

A big part of its mission since 2005 has been to intercept and stop Japanese ships from hunting whales. Every such outing costs Sea Shepherd about $4 million. In the years when they found success and actually foiled Japan’s whalers, that investment was well worth it. Today, though, Japan is routinely one step ahead of them.

“Every time we approached them, they would be just over the horizon,” Sea Shepherd’s founder, Captain Paul Watson, told The Washington Post. “They knew where we were at every moment. We’re literally wasting our time and our money.”

whaling ship with dead whale

Japanese whaling ship the Nisshin Maru with a captured whale. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Why? Because Japan now uses military-quality surveillance equipment to monitor the Sea Shepherd vessels. This allows Japanese whalers to always know in real time where the Sea Shepherd ships are. There’s no opportunity anymore for the organization’s ships to actually intercept Japanese operations and save the whales being targeted.

Since 1986, there’s been a moratorium on whaling instituted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan is a signatory to the IWC, but it ignores this moratorium by creating a feeble fiction. Every year, it says the whales it kills are taken in the name of “research.” That word is even stenciled on their vessels.

Japan says once its “research” is done, it must not waste the by-products that come from the whales. This is why whale meat ends up in restaurants and school lunches all over Japan. They’re not just out there brazenly hunting whales for the profit it brings, they say. No one really believes this assertion, of course.

The International Court of Justice temporarily stopped Japan’s whaling in 2014, finding that it simply was not done for scientific purposes. Japan stopped whaling for a year, then picked it right back up again in 2016 and 2017. Up to now, Sea Shepherd’s success in preventing whale deaths by Japanese poachers has been impressive.

In a news release, the organization highlighted some of those achievements:

Sea Shepherd was relentless in reducing [Japan’s] yearly quotas significantly and in 2012/2013 the Japanese whalers went home with only about 10% of their intended kills. We did this at the same time the U.S. Federal Court put significant legal obstacles in our path.

The results speak for themselves. Over 6,000 whales saved. Not a single endangered Humpback killed and only 10 endangered Fin whales killed in a decade where 500 were slated to die. In addition, the Japanese whalers lost tens of millions of dollars.

Sadly, in March 2017, Japanese whalers returned after a four month expedition with 333 dead minke whales. In part, that’s because Sea Shepherd has been unable to stop them as effectively as they once could.

The non-profit is therefore stepping back after 12 years of whale wars to regroup. It needs to figure out how best to proceed in light of this new and difficult obstacle. However, Captain Watson vows his fight is not over.

There are those who love what the Sea Shepherd does, and those who decry it as too aggressive and violent. However, when no other entity or country seems inclined to take Japan on, what are these conservationists to do? Watch the whales die as the world ignores Japan’s flouting of international law?

There are no easy answers, but Watson and his Sea Shepherd colleagues know where they stand.

“Sea Shepherd’s continuing efforts to go after and shut down whalers will continue, and not only against Japanese whaling, but also against Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic whaling,” said the group in a news release. “This is what we have been doing for forty years. We will never quit until the abomination of whaling is abolished forever by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W24 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer H
Jennifer H6 months ago

Just think....all of that money that was given to Japan for Tsunami reparations was used to upgrade their damn whaling fleet and not for the people or fixing their reactor leaks. Evil country.

Pat P
Pat P6 months ago

The Japanese slaughter of whales and dolphins is reprehensible! This is too much of a job for only one ship to cover. They need help and finances. It is a worthy endeavor! The Japanese are cruel to these marine animals.

earthism i
earthism info6 months ago

sea shepherd update your surveillance equipment

Elaine W
Elaine W6 months ago

Bless the Sea Shepherd.

Ruth S
Ruth S6 months ago


Greta H
Past Member 6 months ago

thanks for the update

heather g
heather g6 months ago

Perhaps Sea Shepherd can use even more advanced technical equipment which can block their whereabouts.

Terri S
Terri S6 months ago

I LOVE Sea Shepherd!!! Thank you for protecting the whales!!!

renee lusian
renee lusian6 months ago

Why are the Sheperds the only group with the couraage to help prevent these autrosities?