Operation Leviathan

Operation Leviathan 2006-2007


Saving whales is what we do best and what we are most noted for. Our approach has been simple and straightforward. We have shut down outlaw whaling activities in Norway, Iceland, Spain, and the former Soviet Union. We continue to be the most aggressive, most successful, and only organization dedicated to direct-action and intervention to protect the great leviathans. Sea Shepherd has built a reputation for action on the high seas that is paralleled by none others and is the ONLY organization that repeatedly journeys to Antarctica to intervene to protect these gentle giants.

Fin whale (photo: Center for Whale Research)

Minke whale photo courtesy Sea Life Surveys

Knowing that the Japanese whaling fleet had plans to kill 935 piked (Minke) whales and 10 endangered fin whales, we were obligated to return to defend them. When we started planning our 2006-7 Antarctic Whale Defense Campaign we knew that we needed a fast long-range ship. The year before, Japanese whaling fleet had been able to outrun our ship, Farley Mowat, with their superior speed. We could only be satisfied that they fell 83 whales short of their quota because of the time we cost them with the pursuit.

To purchase a new ship, we launched our first-ever capital campaign to raise needed funds. After searching the globe for the right vessel, we purchased the Westra, a 1,000-ton recently-retired Scottish Fisheries Patrol vessel that was strong and extremely fast.

We renamed the ship the Robert Hunter to honor the late Robert "Bob" Hunter, who along with Sea Shepherd Founder and President Captain Paul Watson was a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation. Hunter died in May 2005, and at his funeral, Captain Watson pledged to name a ship in his honor. They were shipmates from 1971 onward with Greenpeace where, in 1975, they manned the very first inflatable boat that blocked the harpoons of whalers. Later, Hunter joined many Sea Shepherd campaigns and he was a member of the Sea Shepherd Advisory Board. With this ship, he continues to be by our side in spirit and together we continue to defend life in the oceans. Hunter's daughter Emily Hunter joined the ship's crew for this campaign to defend whales in Antarctica.

Circa 1975, Bob Hunter
onboard a
Greenpeace ship

Hunter  joins Sea Shepherd
in 1998 to protect
gray whales in U.S. waters

For the first time ever, we were outfitted to launch two ships on a campaign to protect the whales. We decided to call our 2006-2007 Antarctic whale defense campaign "Operation Leviathan." We gave the command of the Robert Hunter to Captain Alex Cornelissen so that Captain Watson could return to Australia to raise funds and to ready the Farley Mowat for departure.

The Robert Hunter departed from Scotland under the British flag, refuelled in Rotterdam, and stopped briefly in France to pick up crew. They proceeded south down the middle of the North and South Atlantic and into the Straits of Magellan to refuel in the Chilean port of Puntareanas and to pick up more crew. The ship then continued on towards the Ross Sea.

The Farley Mowat's departure was delayed when Britain refused to register the ship at the request of Japan. We quickly secured a Belizean registry and departed from Melbourne, Victoria, on December 23, 2006, for Hobart in Tasmania. After the delivery of the Sea Shepherd Hughes 300 helicopter, named Kookaburra, the Farley Mowat departed from Hobart just hours before the Belize government unexpectedly and suddenly pulled the Belize flag - again at the request of Japan. The Farley Mowat sailed onward towards the Ross Sea as a flagless vessel.

Both the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter proceeded to a point in the middle of the Ross Sea area. The Farley Mowat searched for the Japanese fleet from the west as the Robert Hunter searched for the fleet from the east. The two ships met and the crew transferred the steel to build a helicopter deck from the Farley Mowat to the Robert Hunter. The crew constructed the helicopter deck on the Robert Hunter in two days.

The two ships carried a combined crew of 56 volunteers from the following nations:

1) Australia
2) Bermuda
3) Brazil
4) Canada
5) France
6) Germany
7) Great Britain
8) Hungary
9) Netherlands
10) New Zealand
11) Sweden
12) United States

Two ships and a helicopter gave us the means to conduct an extensive search of the Ross Sea area. Unfortunately, it is a vast area and it took more than a month of constant patrols before the Japanese whaling fleet was finally located just north of the Balleny Islands. The fleet was located at 66 Degrees 46 Minutes South and 169 Degrees 52 Minutes East.

On February 9th, the Robert Hunter and the Farley Mowat engaged the Japanese factory ship - the "mother" ship - Nisshin Maru in an operation that successfully shut down all Japanese whaling operations for the day.

The Robert Hunter first approached the Nisshin Maru. There were three hunter-killer vessels with the mother ship. These vessels quickly fled northward. The Nisshin Maru fled east straight towards the Farley Mowat. At two miles from the Farley Mowat, the Nisshin Maru turned and fled back west again. During the chase, there was a pod of whales observed in the area near the whalers. These whales fled and were confirmed to be safe from the whalers.

The Sea Shepherd crew successfully delivered six liters of butyric acid onto the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru. This "butter acid" is a non-toxic, obnoxious-smelling substance. The foul smell effectively cleared everyone from the flensing deck and stopped all work of cutting up whales.

Sea Shepherd crew in Zodiacs nailed metal plates to the Nisshin Maru's drain outlets (near the waterline). These drains spill the blood of the whales from the flensing deck into the sea. This metal plate action resulted in the backing up of the whale blood onto the flensing decks. The plates were secured by Hilt nail guns that drive steel nails through solid steel.

Sea Shepherd relayed the coordinates to the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza. Despite Greenpeace's refusal to cooperate with the Sea Shepherd ships, it is Sea Shepherd's belief that the whales need every anti-whaling ship in the area. Greenpeace refused to give Sea Shepherd their position so it was unknown how long it would take them to reach the area where the whaling fleet was operating.

The Sea Shepherd ships were able to outmaneuver the Japanese satellite tracking system by taking the ships south of the Balleny Islands through heavy ice. Thirty years of experience with ice navigation opposing the Canadian seal slaughter has proven quite helpful. The Japanese satellite surveillance program could not track a ship's wake through the ice.

The following message was delivered to the Japanese whaling fleet that morning:

"Nisshin Maru, this is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat. Please be advised that you are killing whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. You are targeting endangered species of whales in violation of international conservation law. You are killing whales in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling. Please cease and desist your illegal whaling operations and leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. We are acting in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Charter authorizes non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law."

The Japanese fleet fled and escaped in a storm. Sea Shepherd resumed the search on February 10th and located the Japanese whaling vessel Kaiko Maru on February 12th.

The Sea Shepherd vessels Robert Hunter and Farley Mowat caught the Japanese whaling vessel Kaiko Maru bearing down on a pod of whales. The Sea Shepherd activists demanded that the whaler leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary and cease and desist from illegally killing whales. The conservation vessels moved in and chased the whaler into the ice. The whales escaped.

Right: Sea Shepherd crew in a Zodiac throw a smoke bomb onto the Kaiko Maru

At one point during the confrontation, the Kaiko Maru turned to starboard and struck the Robert Hunter. After hitting our ship, the Kaiko Maru issued a distress signal. Sea Shepherd acknowledged this distress signal, but the Japanese vessel refused to say what distress they were in or accept help of any kind.

Sea Shepherd's pursuit and harassment of the Japanese fleet had to be terminated due to limitations on fuel for both vessels. Both Sea Shepherd ships set course to return to Melbourne, Australia. The Sea Shepherd ships had searched for the Japanese fleet for five weeks and had covered thousands of square miles of ocean.

On February 15th when the two Sea Shepherd ships were approximately one thousand miles from the Nisshin Maru, the factory ship caught fire. It is a known fact that the Nisshin Maru is not a very safe ship: Around ten years ago, while enroute to the coast of Antarctica, the vessel suffered a major fire that forced the whale slaughter ship into a South Pacific island port for repairs.

It happened again.

The Nisshin Maru burned out of control in the Ross Sea. Maritime New Zealand received a distress call from the ship at 5:15 AM Thursday (1615 GMT Wednesday). One hundred and twenty-seven crewmembers were evacuated to the other ships in the whaling fleet. Twenty crew remained onboard to fight the fire. Ships in the region were notified to head towards the stricken vessel. One crewmember on the Japanese ship was killed.

The Sea Shepherd ships did not have sufficient fuel to return to the burning whaler. Both Sea Shepherd ships stayed on course for Melbourne, Australia.

Preparations began immediately upon arrival into port to return to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary in late 2007 to once again intervene against illegal Japanese whaling operations.

The Robert Hunter and Farley Mowat arrived at the Port of Melbourne on February 19th and 22nd respectively. A poll in the Age newspaper (online) showed Sea Shepherd receiving 88% support for our activities in the Southern Ocean.

Throughout the entire campaign, in Australia, news of our efforts were broadcast daily on television and printed in all of the major newspapers. Global coverage was garnered from media far and wide including the Japan Times, TV New Zealand, The Herald (Scotland), Forbes News and Yahoo News (USA), The Times Online (UK), Gazet van Antwerpen (Belgium), Sunday Tribune (South Africa), and many more. It is Sea Shepherd's goal to wake up the whole world to the atrocities being perpetrated on the magnificent leviathans of the deep. We invite citizens from all countries to let your government know that you want to see a permanent end to the killing of whales.

Your support of Sea Shepherd can help insure that the whales of Antarctica are protected from the cruel harpoons of the Japanese whalers! In 2007-2008, the Japanese are upping their self-allotted quota, targeting 50 endangered humpback and 50 fin endangered whales in addition to 925 threatened piked (Minke) whales.

Please make a donation today to insure that Captain Watson and crew have the means to return to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary.


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