It's hardly the place you'd expect to see drone aircraft being used, far away from the Middle East, but you will find them there: the Antarctic. Anti-whaling groups are using drones to track the movements of Japan's annual whale hunt.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose anti-whaling campaigns are telecast on the Discovery Channel's Whale Wars series, made contact for the first time this year with Japanese whalers on Saturday. Credit for that goes to the the drones, which helped the Society locate the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru off Australia's western coast.
The two drones, one on the Sea Shepher's ship the Steve Irwin and the other on fellow ship Bob Barker, are equipped with cameras and detection equipment that allow the society to monitor and track the whaling fleet from a distance.
While other Japanese ships shielded the Nisshin Maru "to allow it to escape" as the Steve Irwin approached it on Christmas Day, Sea Shepherd said in a statement that,
"This time, however, the Japanese tactic of tailing the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker will not work because the drones, one on the Steve Irwin and the other on the Bob Barker, can track and follow the Nisshin Maru and can relay the positions back to the Sea Shepherd ships."
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said, using satellite phone from the Steve Irwin,
"We caught them due west of Perth. For the next few days we will be chasing them. We are heading south. Thanks to these drones, we now have an advantage we have never had before --- eyes in the sky."
It's something the U.S. military has enjoyed in Afghanistan and Iraq for some time. However, recently, a drone was downed in Iran, and that country claimed it did so by spoofing the drone's GPS system. So will we see Japan, which certainly has the technology, doing so as well?
Whether or not Japan does --- or can --- do that remains to be seen, but the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society hopes to leverage the drones to protect all the whales in Japan's bullseye this year. Last year, the Society saved 858 whales out of a possible 1,035, the number of whales the Japanese fleet had planned to hunt down. This year, they're hoping to save all of them.
There's been a global moratorium on whaling for years, but Japan annually exercises a loophole allowing "scientific research." It's well known that the research is more about catering to a small set of citizens with gourmet appetites than actual research. It's no different that the horrific slaughter of sharks for shark fin soup.