Guardian
October 18, 2011

As the Steve Irwin approached the equator last week, word that Japan would be sending a strengthened whaling fleet to Antarctica next month reached the bridge of the old Aberdeen-built customs vessel. The crew of activists on board cheered, as their veteran leader, Captain Paul Watson, resigned himself to his eighth “whale war” among the icebergs and 100mph winds of the Southern ocean.

Watson, on what is nearly his 350th voyage in nearly 40 years defending whales and other marine wildlife at the helm of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, is sending three ships to intercept, chase and harass the Japanese. He promises “aggressive non-violence”, while the Japanese, still smarting from last year’s humiliation when their fleet took only a fifth of its planned whale catch, say they will heighten security and take an armed government fisheries patrol vessel.

“We intend to carry out the [whale] research after enhancing measures to assure that the fleet is not obstructed,” said fisheries minister, Michihiko Kano.

The two fleets expect to meet in the Antarctic whale sanctuary before Christmas and will shadow and confront each other for at least 12 weeks. Both have helicopters and water cannon. In addition, the Steve Irwin has iron spikes to prevent the Japanese from boarding, and Watson’s crew has a store of vile-smelling butyric acid stink bombs to fling aboard any vessel that comes close. Both fleets are expected to wage a media and diplomatic battle, as well as engage in a dangerous physical tussle on the high seas.

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