Sea Shepherd stands fast against whaling through Operation Ultimate Justice

File photo: A whaler aboard Japanese ship Yushin Maru No. 3 uses a rifle to shoot a harpooned and dying minke whale. Photo: Sea ShepherdFile photo: A whaler aboard Japanese ship Yushin Maru No. 3 uses a rifle to shoot a harpooned and dying minke whale. Photo: Sea ShepherdAs Japan's whaling fleet leaves today to resume killing whales in the Antarctic Ocean, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is vowing to continue its fight to save whales from the brutal slaughter. Through Operation Ultimate Justice, Sea Shepherd is bringing the battle for the whales into the U.S. courts, asking the courts to order a permanent halt to Japan’s unlawful whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“For years, Sea Shepherd took direct action against the whalers on the seas, saving one whale at a time from the Japanese harpoons,” said Sea Shepherd Founder Captain Paul Watson. “But if we are to bring the illegal slaughter to an end once and for all, we cannot simply defeat the Japanese whalers on the water; we need to defeat them in the courts.”

These legal efforts by Sea Shepherd carry on the organization’s long history of working to end the senseless slaughter of whales in the internationally recognized whale sanctuary. Sea Shepherd saved 3,651 whales from being killed through its Southern Ocean campaigns between 2005 and 2012, which were depicted in the Animal Planet series Whale Wars.

As a result of these successful interventions, the Japanese whalers brought every possible weapon to bear to try to stop Sea Shepherd. Japanese officials tried, but failed, to convince the Internal Revenue Service to strip Sea Shepherd of its tax-exempt status as a non-profit. They obtained an INTERPOL Red Notice against Captain Watson, seeking to have him extradited to Japan for trial. The whalers also spent millions of dollars going after Sea Shepherd in the U.S. courts, and in 2012, the whalers convinced the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an injunction to bar Sea Shepherd from interfering with their illegal hunt.

As a law-abiding organization, Sea Shepherd, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) non-profit marine conservation organization, complied with the injunction and withdrew from the Southern Ocean whale-defense campaigns. In its absence, global Sea Shepherd entities such as Sea Shepherd Australia continued the campaigns, saving 1,716 whales between 2012 and 2014 in Operations Zero Tolerance and Relentless. Although Sea Shepherd U.S. was not involved in these campaigns, last year the whalers persuaded the Ninth Circuit to find Sea Shepherd in contempt of court for failing to stop the foreign entities from defending the whales.

Now Sea Shepherd has turned the tables on the whalers, bringing extensive counterclaims against the whalers in the lawsuit that the whalers started, in an effort to bring a permanent halt to their illegal whaling, and to stop them from using violent and dangerous tactics to protect their unlawful activities.

Sea Shepherd’s lawsuit comes at a time when international legal pressure on Japan’s whaling program continues to mount. Just last month, the Australian Federal Court found the whalers in contempt of a 2008 injunction prohibiting them from whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, and fined them $1 million AUD. In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s “research” whaling program was a sham, and ordered Japan to stop issuing “research” permits allowing whales to be killed.

For a short time, Japan complied, and for the first time in 25 years, Japan did not kill any whales in the Southern Ocean during the 2014-2015 season. Last week, however, Japan announced that it would defy both the International Court of Justice and the Australian Federal Court by going forward with its plans to kill 4,000 whales in the protected Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary over the next 12 years.

“The whalers refused to appear in the Australian Federal Court, and after losing in the International Court of Justice, they have declared that they will no longer submit to its jurisdiction,” said Claire Loebs Davis, a shareholder with the law firm of Lane Powell PC, and attorney for Sea Shepherd. “Since the whalers chose to sue Sea Shepherd in a U.S. court, however, they have submitted to jurisdiction here, and we have a unique opportunity to pursue these important claims against them.”

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