Japanese ship allegedly caught whaling in protected waters

Photos released by an activist group spark criticism over ongoing whale hunts in the Southern Ocean

Published January 6, 2014 3:36PM (EST)

In what activists are calling a “gross breach of international law," a Japanese boat has been caught on film carting bloody whale carcasses in the Southern Ocean.

Photos released by the anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd appear to show a Japanese boat in New Zealand's Ross Sea, a protected whale sanctuary, with the carcasses of three minke whales on its deck. The vessel, Sea Shepherd said, fled the waters without confrontation after the photos were taken.

Despite having agreed on an international moratorium on commercial whaling back in 1986, Japan, according to Reuters, catches and kills hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean each year. While surrounding countries acknowledged the solid evidence of whaling activity, none were willing to take further responsibility for the incident. Per the Guardian, New Zealand disputed the boat's location, while Japan denied any wrongdoing. Australia, too, is being criticized for its lack of action against Japanese whaling:

Murray McCully, foreign affairs minister, called the Japanese operation "pointless and offensive", adding: "New Zealand has responsibility for co-ordinating search and rescue operations in a large area in the Southern Ocean, however these are international waters and not within New Zealand's maritime jurisdiction.'' Japan says the whale hunts are for scientific purposes.

The organisation argues that Australia should enforce its own Antarctic territory by cracking down on whaling, which has been deemed unlawful by its federal court. However, only four countries – which do not include Japan – recognise Australia’s claim to Antarctic land and sea territory.

"The whalers have not yet been and are not currently in Australia's search and rescue zone," said a spokesman from the office of Greg Hunt, Australia's Environment Minister.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Australia Japan New Zealand Whales Whaling