The anti-whaling group says they saw the Japanese ship, Yushin Maru No 2, harpoon the whale just before 6pm on Friday, less than 100 kilometres from Australia’s Davis research centre.
A dangerous confrontation between the two groups followed after the alleged killing, as the activist’s boat, Bob Barker, was rammed following their attempts to stop the whale carcass from being transferred from the harpooning ship to the ‘mothership’, Nisshin Maru.
Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd group, believed the incident was a provocation used by the irate whalers to “test our resolve because they thought that we wouldn’t block them.”
“They came in so close, they tried to ram the Bob Barker so it backed off but I don’t think they are going to try that again” Watson explained, adding that the event was a “Sort of a stand-off. The Steve Irwin’s racing to catch up with them and we’re being followed by the Nisshin Mauru 3.”
The group has posted photos of the incidence online.
The Australian federal government, which condemned the actions of Japanese whalers, said whaling by Japan is illegal wherever it may happen:
“It doesn’t matter what part of the ocean it is in, Australia’s view is that it is just as illegal,” Environment Minister Tony Burke told reporters.
“That’s why we have taken Japan to the International Court of Justice,” he added.
The opposition has called for customs boats to patrol the area before the situation escalates, pledging to monitor next year’s hunt, should they win the September elections.
”We see now that the risk of collision is at extreme levels, in freezing waters the risk to life and limb is extraordinary because there are two hostile parties, and all the while whales are being slaughtered, this time in Australian waters,” said opposition environment spokesman, Greg Hunt.
But Mr Burke rejected the calls, arguing that the focus should not just be on where the whaling incident happened, but that Japanese whaling is illegal wherever it may occur.
“I think it would be a terrible situation if we started to go down the path of arguing that in one part of the ocean we thought whaling was okay and in others it wasn’t,” the minister said.
Interestingly, the event came on the same day a US Supreme court held up an injunction, sought by the Institute of Cetacean Research, which undertakes the Japanese whaling program, ordering the sea Shepherd vessels to stay away from their whaling ships in the southern Ocean.
The whaling industry is struggling after years of activist’s attempts to thwart their operation, fueling a low demand for whale meat. This year, the whaling program, which uses a loophole in International Whaling Commission rules allowing whales to be killed for research, has been subsidised by taxpayer funds.