The first clash between whalers and whale defenders took place on December 14th when the Steve Irwin and the Shonan Maru #2 exchanged shots with their water cannons.
The Shonan Maru #2 has been following the Steve Irwin from Fremantle since December 9th. At 1400 Hours (Melbourne time) the Steve Irwin went around an iceberg, did a figure eight out of view of the Shonan Maru #2 and re-emerged within a quarter of a mile of the Japanese whaler's portside quarter catching the whalers completely by surprise.
A pursuit began and the Shonan Maru #2 turned on two water cannons. The crew of the Steve Irwin immediately responded by placing their water cannon in readiness. The Shonan Maru #2 and the Steve Irwin were engaged in a high speed pursuit for two hours before Captain Watson decided to break off the pursuit to resume course to the coast of Antarctica.
The Japanese whalers are spending a great deal of money, first locating the Steve Irwin by air and then directing the Shonan Maru #2 to the coordinates of the Sea Shepherd vessel. By staying on the tail of the Steve Irwin, the harpoon vessel is able to keep the rest of the fleet aware of the Sea Shepherd position. Captain Paul Watson needs to lose the tail of the Shonan Maru #2 in order to locate the whaling fleet. He is counting on heavier ice conditions to assist in this effort.
"We will use the icebergs and the ice floes to our advantage." Said Captain Paul Watson. "I've observed today that I am a more experienced ice navigator than the Japanese captain chasing us. We need to get him to follow us into the ice fields and let the ice work for us."
The Steve Irwin crew were left wet, but in good spirits after the confrontation.
"It was awesome seeing them run like cowards when we turned on them," said Third Mate Vincent Hayes from Williamstown in Victoria.
Photos 1-3: Barbara Veiga / Sea Shepherd
Photos 4,5: Michael Williams / Sea Shepherd