LOCAL anti-whale harvesting activists are cheering at the withdrawal of Japanese whaling vessels a month ahead of their planned whale harvesting.
“It’s really great news and it has actually come as a bit of a surprise,” said the head of the local Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chapter, Joshua Harrison. “It’s going to show the public how effective Sea Shepherd is.”
He has been running information stalls at markets and festivals on behalf of the Sea Shepherd organisation to recruit people to the campaign and raise awareness of whale harvesting.
In recent years, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australia has mounted an increasingly intense campaign against Japanese whaling vessels in southern waters. Famous for direct action tactics, Sea Shepherd has three vessels in the Southern Ocean which shadow whaling vessels to document activities and attempt to prevent the capture of whales.
“It’s just unbelievable – they could come back next year but if they return next season, Sea Shepherd will be ready for them,” said Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australian director Jeff Hansen.
Traditionally, the Japanese hunt whales between December and mid March in the southern ocean, when the summer sun melts the Antarctic ice and a booming krill population attracts whales to their summer feeding grounds.
Refuelling challenges, Sea Shepherd tactics and threats by the Chilean government have led to more than 900 whales being saved from slaughter, said Jeff Hansen.
“They probably didn’t even take 10 per cent of their quota. They came down a month late because they couldn’t get a refueller (ship) and we intercepted them before they could start. The Chilean government said if you enter our waters, we will board your ships and take the whale meat from you.
“Our three Sea Shepherd boats will remain in the southern ocean to escort the Japanese boats northward and will not leave the southern ocean until they have gone.”
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments should follow Chile’s lead to protect the whale sanctuary in the future, believes Mr Hansen. “The New Zealand and Australian governments need to send vessels down and then we wouldn’t have to do it,” he said.
“Now the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is indeed a whale sanctuary – Japan has always ignored it before.”
Whale watching on tourist vessels and at local headlands has been a growing tourist attraction and experience for people on the Coffs Coast.