Japanese whalers have left Australia’s Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), and are now heading for the waters of the Ross Dependency, which is under the claim of New Zealand. The Sea Shepherd, an envrionment conservation group, said that the three whaling vessels are now heading eastward.

Sea Shepherd’s Captain, Paul Watson, said, “They are now in the waters of the Ross Dependency and the Steve Irwin is in pursuit.”

The Steve Irwin is their Netherlands-based vessel and has been monitoring the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #2, the spotting vessel Kaiko Maru and has observed and tracked the Nisshin Maru from the air since December 20; which has brought them many close encounters, Mr Watson said.

“What is now good news for the whales in Australian waters is now bad news for the whales in the waters south of New Zealand,” said Mr Watson.

Sea Shepherd claim that the whalers are in violation of international conservation law and the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature as the Ross Dependecy waters are an established whale sanctuary. Mr Watson said, “We will continue to pursue, harass and intervene against their blatantly illegal lethal assaults on the whales.”

On board the Steve Irwin are around 40 volunteers and Animal Planet filming the second season of Whale Wars. The Japanese claimed this was endangering their lives and lambasted both Sea Shepherd and Animal Planet for their alleged attempts at making more exciting television.

Steve Irwin is at the moment currently heading to New Zealand to refuel and replenish other provisions. Mr Watson said, “We don’t have the luxury of refuelling at sea like the Japanese fleet has.”

After refuelling at the closest port, they will head back to the expected position of the Japanese ships to prevent more whale deaths and “to continue to pursue, harass and intervene against illegal Japanese whaling activities,” Mr Watson said.

However, the Japanse Whaling Association has called for the Australian and New Zealand Governments to refuse port access to the Steve Irwin under the claim that the Sea Shepherd is committing “terror” on the sea. “Otherwise these countries will be complicit in any further attacks,” they said.

The Japanese whaling fleet plans to kill about 1,000 whales this summer, using a loophole in a 1986 global whaling moratorium that allows “lethal research” on the ocean giants. So far, Sea Shepherd have successfully stopped the Japanese from culling any whales this season, and last year cost them $70 million in lost profit while saving over 500 endangered whales.

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