Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's fleet has found the illegal Japanese whaling vessels on the last day of the calendar year. In the vastness of the Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd's ships have now found the Japanese fleet before they even began killing whales. This is a momentous victory for the whales and precisely how Sea Shepherd's President and Founder Captain Paul Watson had hoped to ring in the New Year.
At around 0900 hours (Australian Eastern Standard Time), Sea Shepherd's ship the Bob Barker found a harpoon vessel on the edge of the ice at 148 degrees west. The unidentified Japanese vessel attempted to move south to draw the Bob Barker away from the Nisshin Maru.
At 1500 Hours AEST, some 60 miles to the North, Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel the Steve Irwin found the Japanese harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #2 sitting in the ice.
The Gojira and Sea Shepherd's helicopter the Nancy Burnet, continue to search for the Nisshin Maru, Japan's floating abattoir.
By knowing when the Nisshin Maru left Japan and estimating the speed of the ship as it headed south, Captain Watson was able to get a rough idea of the whaling fleet's daily progress.
He decided to take the Steve Irwin to Wellington, New Zealand and then down to Bluff on the southern end of the South Island. The Gojira stayed in Hobart and the Bob Barker moved to the middle and to the south of the Tasman Sea to show the Japanese that we were covering their path should they choose to go through it.
Captain Watson figured this would force the whaling fleet to the east to avoid being caught in the middle of the Sea Shepherd fleet in the Tasman Sea.
The whalers made an announcement that they would expand their hunting area to make it more difficult for Sea Shepherd to find them but over the last seven campaigns that Sea Shepherd has been harassing them, the illegal Japanese whalers have proven themselves to be nothing short of predictable and Captain Watson decided they were bluffing.
When the Tasmanian patrol reported the whalers well to the northeast of New Zealand heading southeast, Captain Watson deduced that they would head for the extreme eastern boundary of the area Japan has designated for their so-called research, an area that extends to 145 degrees west. This would place them at the maximum distance from where the Sea Shepherd ships departed from Tasmania and New Zealand.
Captain Watson instructed Captain Locky MacLean to take the Gojira east along the 60-degree line of latitude. Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Bob Barker was instructed to head east along the 64-degree line of latitude, and Captain Watson took the Steve Irwin east along the 62-degree line of latitude.
The two harpoon ships were spotted at 148 degrees west line of longitude on December 31st. The interception of the Japanese whaling fleet took place 1,700 nautical miles southeast of New Zealand and 2,300 nautical miles southwest of Chile.
"This is fantastic," said Steve Irwin's Chief Cook Laura Dakin of Canberra, Australia, "for the first time in Sea Shepherd's history, we have located the whalers before they had a chance to kill a single whale."