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Activists allege violence and poaching in a war over Antarctic whaling

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The marine conservation organization known as Sea Shepard United States (SSUS) says it’s facing dangerous opposition in the waters of Antarctica. During a news conference in Washington, D.C. that detailed a legal fight with Asian whalers, activists accused a Japanese fleet of violence and intimidation. “It is a horrific operation. Very aggressive behavior on their part,” says Scott West, a representative with Sea Shepherd United States. “They would throw golf balls and heavy metal objects to try to hurt our people. Spears have been tossed at our crew.”

In almost three decades, SSUS has launched at least 200 missions around the world in an attempt at protecting and preserving wildlife such as whales, bluefin tuna, dolphins and seals from poachers. “The oceans are in peril and part of that imperilment is slaughter,” says West. “Once the oceans are degraded and die, life on land will cease to exist. This is of incredible importance.”

Sea Shepherd United States is engaged in a heated war of words with the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a Japanese whale study firm, which routinely works in Antarctic waters. While the law allows for a limited number of whale kills for study, SSUS accuses the Asian organization of using its scientific research status as a way to disguise a brutal commercial hunting operation. “There is no legitimate scientist or informed party who agrees that Japan’s slaughter of whales is real research. The claim is a sham and quite frankly it’s a lie,” says West. “They shoot an exploding harpoon into their back. They shoot it with hire powered rifles. They can drag harpooned whales up and then carve them up on the decks.”

The Institute of Cetacean Research defends its work and says it complies with the law. In a statement the firm says it “conducts its Antarctic whale research program under a permit issued by the Government of Japan in accordance with Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.” Additionally, ICR also accuses the marine activist group of engaging in hostile behavior, saying “Sea Shepherd had launched its sabotage vessels and announced its intention once again to take physical action.”

Sea Shepherd United States vehemently denies the accusations and stands by its initial claims against ICR, allegations that set the stage for a bitter battle. “The criminals are the whalers,” says West. “They’re extremely hostile.”

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