Support all your favorite nonprofits with a single donation.Donate safely, anonymously & monthly, in any amount. It's a smarter way to give online. Learn more
Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately-balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Announces Operation Milagro, a Campaign to Defend the Critically Endangered Vaquita Porpoise
On the Heels of an Announcement by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto of the Government’s Strong Commitment to Protecting the Vaquita, Sea Shepherd Reports it has been Documenting the Plight of These Endangered Porpoises in the Marine Reserve in the Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society announces it has had a crew present in the Sea of Cortez for more than a month on Operation Milagro, a campaign dedicated to the protection of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. With only an estimated 97 vaquitas remaining, this campaign addresses the urgent need to protect these vulnerable marine mammals from extinction. This news comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, detailing the government’s firm commitment to conserving the vaquita – an announcement that has inspired hope for this imperiled species. Mexico is enacting a two-year moratorium on gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat that takes effect later this month and taking other critical steps to protect the endangered cetacean.
Since the launch of Operation Milagro in March of this year, crewmembers aboard Sea Shepherd USA’s research sailing vessel, the R/V Martin Sheen, captained by veteran crewmember Oona Layolle, have maintained a presence within the marine refuge of the vaquita in the Gulf of California’s Reserve de la Biosphera, monitoring and documenting the issues facing this species. The Sea Shepherd crew has been surprised to see the extent of illegal fishing and deadly presence of gillnets within these protected waters.
The vaquita, the smallest cetacean in the world, is native to this region and is known only to occur here. According to reports from CIRVA (Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita), a committee that includes government agencies, marine biologists and NGOs, the vaquita population is declining by a shocking 18.5 percent each year – and if measures are not taken to halt this downward spiral, it is believed that the species could be extinct by the year 2018. Of the estimated 97 remaining vaquitas, only about 25 of the petite porpoises are believed to be females of reproductive age. In addition, since the vaquita has a slow reproductive rate, giving birth to just one calf every two years, these animals are being wiped out faster than they can possibly reproduce.
Sea Shepherd commends the Mexican government for the vital actions it is taking to prevent the extinction of the vaquita. Along with the two-year moratorium on gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s habitat in the northern Gulf of California, the government has offered the use of speedboats to the Navy to patrol the reserve. During yesterday’s press conference in San Felipe, President Nieto officially presented to the Navy the keys to the vessels that will now be dedicated to protecting the vaquita by patrolling for poachers and helping to enforce the gillnet ban. In addition, Mexico is spending more than $30 million USD on efforts, including a net “buy-out” compensation program for fishermen who agree to stop using gillnets. The government will also strongly encourage the use of other, less destructive fishing methods that will not harm the dwindling vaquita population.
The vaquitas often become by-catch in gillnets set by both legal and illegal fisheries. The biggest threat to the vaquitas’ survival is likely now the gillnets of illegal poaching operations seeking the totoaba fish – a critically endangered marine species itself. The totoaba is a prized and lucrative catch for poachers who cash in on the high price tag of the fish’s swim bladder, which is exported from Mexico, often being sent through the United States, and sold on the illegal black market in China, where it is served in soup. CIRVA reports that fishermen can receive as much as $8,500 USD for just one kilogram of swim bladder. The fish are caught, their bladders are removed and the rest of each critically endangered totoaba – which can reach two meters in length – is simply left to rot.
Gillnets are set on the bottom of the sea, leaving a deadly trap not only for fish but for the vaquita as well. The porpoises become trapped in the nets, and unable to reach the surface for air, they drown.
Mexico is leading the way in the movement to save the last vaquitas on Earth. Sea Shepherd hopes that the U.S. and Chinese governments will follow suit and take decisive steps together to end the illegal totoaba trade that is threatening both endangered species.
Sea Shepherd hopes to work with Mexico in its ongoing efforts in this region to protect the diminishing vaquita population and its habitat. Throughout our history, Sea Shepherd has had great success working with governments and officials to protect ocean wildlife and oppose poaching operations. Since 2000, Sea Shepherd has maintained a positive presence in the Galapagos Islands, working in cooperation with the Ecuadorian government and the Galapagos National Park Service to protect this UNESCO World Heritage Site from illegal shark finning and the trafficking of wildlife. Among other efforts, Sea Shepherd has provided an AIS tracking system to monitor vessels operating within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and worked with Ecuadorian police to form an elite K9 unit dedicated to detecting contraband wildlife – the first unit of its kind in South America.
Along with efforts to document the plight of the vaquita in the marine reserve, Sea Shepherd has been active in outreach in the region to discuss efforts to protect these elusive and endangered cetaceans. Captain Layolle and members of her crew have met with marine biologists, vaquita experts and other NGOs in Mexico dedicated to this important work in a cooperative effort to assist this species on the brink of extinction. The Mexican government has shown itself to be serious about protecting its marine wildlife. Sea Shepherd stands ready to assist in defense of the world’s remaining vaquitas, before it is too late.
“We have called this campaign ‘Operation Milagro’ because, taking into account the staggeringly small number of vaquitas left, sadly it would be nothing short of a miracle to see one swimming in the sea today,” said Captain Oona Layolle. “President Peña Nieto said yesterday that Mexico is home to 10% of the world’s bio-diversity and he has shown that the government is willing to protect that remarkable eco-system and this vulnerable marine species that calls Mexico’s waters its only home on Earth. Sea Shepherd believes the miracle of the vaquita’s survival is not only possible, we will do everything we can to help.”
Vaquitas are drowning in gill nets used by poachers and fisherman to catch the prized totoaba fish, which goes for $8,500 a kilogram on the black market and is shipped to China for use in soup.
site for more information.
The Strategy Behind Sea Shepherd’s Opposition to the Canadian Seal Slaughter
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
Many Sea Shepherd supporters and people concerned about the killing of seals in Canada often ask why Sea Shepherd is not continuing to oppose the slaughter of harp seals in Canada. Some people have even accused Sea Shepherd of abandoning the Canadian seals.
Sea Shepherd did not abandon the seals but did discontinue its campaigns and I shall explain why.
But first I will briefly explain our history in opposing the Canadian seal slaughter.
My concerns about sealing began in 1961, when I saw a seal killed for the first time; I was ten years old. I was raised in a fishing village in the Canadian Maritimes, where seals were killed on the shores and offshore of the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and my home province of New Brunswick.
That year the Canadian seal kill (1961) was 187,866. There was no quota. Quotas were put in place in 1971, and the quota was set that year for 245,000 seals; the number of seals killed was below quota at 230,966.
The numbers began to fall in 1972 because of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, signed into law that year. The kill in 1971 was 230,000, but for 1972 it fell to 123,832.
In response to the U.S. restrictions, the Canadian government began to provide subsidies creating a glorified welfare program for sealers.
In 1976 I organized the first Greenpeace intervention against the seal slaughter. The quota for that year was 127,000. The sealers killed 165,002. In response to killing more than the quota allowed, the Canadian Department of Fisheries raised the quota in 1977 to 170,000. The second Greenpeace anti-sealing campaign that I initiated and led brought Brigitte Bardot to the ice and was the largest effort ever made to protest the killing. The number of seals killed that year was 165,143. That campaign was the spark that ignited a growing anti-sealing movement in Europe against Canadian and Norwegian sealing.
I left Greenpeace in 1977 and again opposed the seal hunt in 1979 in partnership with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Fund for Animals. This time I brought a ship; the Sea Shepherd was the first ship to ever intervene against the slaughter. The quota for 1979 was 170,000. The kill was 160,541.
In 1982, Greenpeace came to the seal hunt with a ship for the first time. The quota was 185,000 and the kill was 166,739. In the nineties, Greenpeace changed their policy on the seal hunt and stated that it was a sustainable hunt; I was undeterred because it is not and never has been “sustainable.” The commercial seal slaughter has totally disrupted the cycle of fish, plankton and seals, and has contributed to the demise of the fisheries. Why? Because seals eat smaller fish that eat baby cod, and less seals mean more predatory fish to prey upon cod. As a result the mass killings of seals contributed, along with the greed of the industrialized fisheries, to the complete collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery in 1992 – and it has never recovered since.
It was evident that the protests were not making much of a difference. So in 1983 I brought the Sea Shepherd II to the coast of Newfoundland and blockaded the harbor for two weeks to not let the sealing ships out. I then moved to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where my crew and I escorted the sealing ships out of the sealing grounds. Of course we were arrested and the Sea Shepherd II was seized, but out of the quota set that year of 186,000 seals, the sealers killed 57,886. The European Union banned whitecoat pelts, and for the first time in the history of the Canadian seal hunt the kill fell below 100,000 seals.
The whitecoat ban had an impact and it was not until 1996 that the number of seals killed rose again above 100,000.
Between 1984 and 1995 the Canadian government quota remained at 186,000 seals every year, allowing for a total kill of 2,232,000 seals during that 12-year period. The actual kill during those 12 years was 615,000, or around a quarter of the total quota. The 1985 kill was only 19,035 of the quota of 186,000.
Why? Because there was no European Market. The seal hunt would not have survived without massive Canadian government subsidies.
Canada revived the commercial hunt in 1995 with a plan to kill six-week-old seals and to label them “adult seals.” The kill numbers began to increase once again, with 242,906 seals killed from a newly raised quota of 250,000 seals.
I returned to the seal slaughter with my ship Ocean Warrior in 1998, when the quota was set at 275,000 seals. Despite our efforts the kill went over quota to 282,624.
From 2003, the government continued to raise the quotas. We returned again in 2005 with the Farley Mowat when the quota was set at 319,500; many of the Sea Shepherd crew were arrested that year for disrupting the slaughter, but despite their efforts the kill was over the quota once again with 329,829.
In reviewing the campaigns it became very obvious that the only thing that made a difference was the market. Our interventions served to publicize the killing and the contradictions of the slaughter, but our on-site efforts were made increasingly difficult by stronger legislation protecting the killing – labeled the “Seal Protection Act.”
So in 2008 we decided on a different tactic. With legislation before the European Union to ban all seal products, we sent in the Farley Mowat on a campaign to sacrifice the ship to gain maximum publicity in Europe. As a Canadian, I did not skipper the vessel; in fact I stayed onshore. The command went to Captain Alex Cornelissen, a citizen of the Netherlands, and his First Officer, Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden. Most of the crew were European; we needed to make a media splash in Europe, and having a ship crewed by Europeans arrested under the “Seal Protection Act” for the crime of witnessing a seal being killed was a strategy that served to contribute to the passing of the European legislation banning seal products from Canada.
And since then Canada has not had much luck in peddling seal pelts, seal oil and seal penises to Russia and China (yes, I did mean penises, because the DFO invented a sex potion they thought they could market to the Chinese, called “seal penis tea”). The Chinese were not impressed.
With the new ban on seal pelts the kill numbers began to fall again.
2009 – 74,581 seals killed
In response, the Canadian government raised the quota to 280,000.
2010 – 67,327 seals killed
In response to this, the government raised the quota once again to 330,000.
2011 – 37,609 seals killed
In response, the Canadian government raised the quota to the ridiculous number of 400,000 and added more subsidies.
2012 – 69,175 killed
2013 – 90,318 killed
2014 – 54,806 killed
None of the kill numbers from 2009 onward have even come close to the quotas set by the Canadian government.
Between 2007 and 2012, the DFO set an annual quota of 8,200 hooded seals, for a total of 49,200. The number killed during that time period was 811, with none killed in 2011 and one killed in 2012. The grey seals quotas for the same period totaled 244,000. The actual number killed from 2007 to 2014 was 2,738, with none killed at all in 2011.
What these figures illustrate is that there is no commercial sealing industry in Canada. There is simply an illusion of an industry with the annual announcement of unrealistic kill quotas of seals for which there is no longer a market. Fisheries Minister Gail Shea of the Harper government is spending millions in tax dollars trying to sell seal products. It’s hard to sell a dying or dead industry, so the quotas are set high to give the impression that this is a viable industry and that the killing is sustainable. It would have to be sustainable to provide 400,000 corpses ready for skinning every year – but if these numbers were actually taken, the seal population would drop again.
Why are there so many harp seals compared to populations of hooded and greys? Is it because they are out of control? The answer is no. That is the way nature has shaped the North Atlantic eco-system. When Jacques Cartier first sailed to the “new” world from France back in 1534, there were some 40 million seals in the North Atlantic, now reduced to less than 20% of that number. The seals needed the fish, the fish needed the plankton that fed on seal feces and afterbirth, and the fish needed the plankton. The cod worm found in the flesh of cod passed through the body of seals as part of that natural cycle – fish to seal, seal to sea and back to fish. The Canadian DFO sees three factors: humans, seals and fish – and they disregard the fact that there are some 900+ species interdependent on each other within an eco-system that requires large numbers of seals. In fact, added to the harps, the hooded, the greys, the harbor and the ring seals, there were once walrus on the eastern coast of Canada; they were extirpated by humans by the year 1700, in the marine biological holocaust that humanity has inflicted upon the ocean.
The seals are killed by landsmen and by sealers with small boats. There are no pelagic sealing operations. Commercial sealers are not going to expend money for fuel and costs to pursue a product they simply can’t sell. The seals that are killed are sold in the domestic market in Canada and a few sealers are paid subsidies to kill seals, and over the years we have found plenty of evidence of seal pelts discarded in dump sites. Many of the sealers are like deer hunters, killing a few seals here and there.
The problem is that it is difficult to organize an effective intervention against such scattered acts of slaughter. To be effective, Sea Shepherd needs a sealing fleet to oppose, and there simply is not a Canadian sealing fleet anymore.
However the groups that are good at lobbying and have effective campaign against the marketing of seal pelts have carried on. They may not mount campaigns as dramatic as Sea Shepherd campaigns against sealing but they are effective campaigns, led by groups like IFAW, PETA, and The Humane Society of the United States amongst others.
The success of a movement lies in diversity, and over the years it has been a diversity of groups (conservation, animal welfare and animal rights) working towards a common objective – the eradication of sealing.
Every campaign teaches us new directions. Canada has imposed Draconian regulations to prevent interference on the ice with the sealers. Fine, the confrontations of the past laid the foundation for where we go tomorrow, and in my opinion it is to focus our attentions on the markets; if the markets are abolished, commercial sealing will be abolished.
As a Canadian I view it as my responsibility to remove the blood and the shame of the seal slaughter from the escutcheon of Canada, and to restore decency to a country that has been profaned by the likes of Gail Shea and the Canadian politicians who have over the years traded votes for barbarity and horrific cruelty. It is an abomination and a bloody obscenity that has no place in the 21st Century and no place within the national profile of a civilized nation.
The other factor for why Sea Shepherd will not intervene is strategic and it is because the Canadian government and the sealing industry want Sea Shepherd to intervene.
Because they need to ignite the passions of the sealers and the fishermen who view seals as a threat to the supply of fish, and they desperately need a scapegoat to deflect public attention away from the incompetence of mismanagement by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. If the people in the fishing communities get enraged and angry, the government would like that hostility to be directed at Sea Shepherd and not at themselves.
Sea Shepherd has no intention of playing their game, and no intention of undoing the results of the European ban. The key to ending the seal slaughter is the markets – and Canada has been unsuccessful in overturning the European ban and they have failed in their efforts to create new markets. There is also the advantage of having Gail Shea as the Federal Minister of Fisheries. She has a tendency to stick her foot down her throat. She is to seals what Sarah Palin is to wolves. In other words, she’s dumb, vindictive, cruel and predictable. In 2011 she announced a deal to sell seal products to China; pressure from the anti-sealing movement has stopped that deal. China does not want Canadian seal products.
Gail Shea has overseen the destruction of one of the world’s most prestigious libraries on fisheries and oceans; she has driven the fishing industry into the depths of disaster; and she has overseen the poisoning of the waters of British Columbia and the fishermen and environmentalists both despise her for it. But the one thing she has going for her is her obsession with murdering seals; it’s the only thing most fishermen like about her.
A few years ago, a protestor put a pie in Shea’s face; she histrionically called it an act of terrorism. Her response was that that action has hardened her resolve to kill seals; she has responded to being pied by setting the highest kill quotas on seals in over a century and a half, despite the fact that there is simply no market for 80% of the seals she wants killed. Aside from her lack of humanity, she’s also a lousy business person, but she does not mind because she has a public purse to dip in to satisfy her own selfish personal perversions.
I have fought the seal hunt all of my life and I will continue to do so, but after decades of opposition I can say our movement has done an awesome job in the face of government power.
Back in the late eighties – in the wake of the whitecoat ban – in a debate with former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, a sealer in the audience asked me, “What will you do if we return to sealing?”
I looked at him, and as the audience jeered and heckled me, I simply said, “We will crush your markets and we will toss your abominable industry into the trash bin of history where it belongs.”
Our mission is almost complete and in my lifetime I am confident of seeing the day when we will look upon seals as the valuable citizens of the sea that they are, for their ecological worth, for their aesthetic value and because they are the caretakers of the fish and the custodians of the deep.
Besides that, they have ridiculously cute pups.
Is Antarctic Whaling Over?
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
When last we checked in on the criminal Antarctic whalers from Japan they were all giddy with excitement and pumped up with testosterone in anticipation of the possibility of returning to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with a brand new program for which they were cocksure they would get the go-ahead from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
After a decade of interventions by Sea Shepherd and a condemnation of their entire bogus “scientific” whaling program by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the Antarctic whalers had been pretty much shut down. Sea Shepherd had prevented them from killing over 6,000 whales and the lawsuit brought against Japan by Australia ordered them to cease and desist.
At first they agreed to abide by the verdict saying that they respected international law and that they were not a rogue nation. It all looked very bleak for the whalers. But some sneaky little bureaucrat with the Institute of Cetacean Research thought he had come up with a smart idea. The ICR and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe thought so also. They even held a government sponsored whale meat feast to celebrate the new approach.
And that approach was to resubmit the bogus science program with an infallible argument for an alternative bogus science program by spending a season dabbling in non-lethal research and removing the endangered whales from the recipe book. Lower the numbers, and focus on Minke whales while expanding the area of lethal operations.
In fact the ICR was so confident of this new and brilliant “solution” that they announced that they would be returning to kill whales with their new-and-improved-this-time-absolutely-bonafide “scientific” whaling program.
Last year Prime Minster Abe made the announcement that, “Japan, looking at international law and scientific grounds, will engage in research of whaling in order to collect the indispensible scientific information in order to manage the whale resources.”
The new plan would mean taking 4,000 Minke whales over a period of 12 years with an average of 333 killed each year. They would not target the endangered Humpbacks and Fins. If prevented from taking 333 whales, they would simply add what they did not get one year to the quota the next year. So if they took 200 whales instead of 333, they would attempt to kill 466 whales the next year. They also stated they would expand their area of “research,” meaning that they would try to stay as far away from Sea Shepherd ships as they possibly could.
In fact the entire program was designed to prevent interference from Sea Shepherd by making the distances greater and allowing for an added quota the following year to compensate for the loss they expected from interventions by anti-whaling activists.
When it came to the science of avoiding intervention it was a good plan but unfortunately for them the IWC is not much interested in the strategic science of avoiding confrontations with whale defenders.
Nonetheless they were excited! You see the ICR had so convinced themselves that they really do conduct research whaling and they were dead certain that the IWC would not find fault with the new and improved plan.
They also thought that the world would agree with their assessment that the Minke whales were the “cockroaches of the sea.” And by dropping the more beloved Humpbacks and the much rarer Fins, they felt that the new plan was in the bag.
To sprinkle some seeds of “credibility” on their new science program they sent their harpoon boats down to the Southern Ocean this past season to do non-lethal posing, oops sorry, I meant to say “research.”
The new program was named NEWREP-A, a program to secure more precise data on Minke whales in preparation for the lifting of the global moratorium on commercial whaling.
In other words they need to keep their whalers trained and they need to try and reinvigorate a dying market for whale meat. In 1997, a Japanese representative to the IWC let slip that they felt if whaling were shut down for any period of time they would be hard pressed to find professional harpooners and it would be difficult to train new ones without the experience of the veterans.
The Japanese whalers did not return to the Southern Ocean this season and the 2014/2015 season was the first time since the end of World War II that the whales were safe from the harpoons.
Now what are their plans for the 2015/2016 whaling season?
It was, up until this week, to return in December 2015 to take their first 333 Minke whales under their new program, but shockingly they’ve run into a big unexpected obstacle.
The panel of scientific experts for the IWC is not being taken in by the re-worked justification for “science.”
Australia submitted to the panel that NEWREP-A is essentially the same approach rejected by the ICJ. “Japan has added several non-lethal elements to the program in an attempt to make it appear less focused in lethal methods,” said Bill de la Mare of the Australian Antarctic Division.
This week the scientific panel of experts for the IWC reported that Japan had failed to provide enough information to determine whether killing more Minke whales was necessary to meet research objectives. Therefore “the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve these objectives.”
The Japanese whalers did set out just this week to kill Minke whales in the North Pacific, their argument being that this hunt is not covered by the ICJ ruling, although there is a good argument that it is.
The Antarctic however is 100% covered by the verdict of the ICJ and that new plan has now been rejected by the IWC.
In an effort to save face, the Japanese said they were open to some revisions but did not specify what that actually meant.
The world is not buying Japan’s ridiculous claim to science. Consider that from 1950 until 1987, the total number of whales killed for scientific research was 950 by all nations. In other words 25 whales on average a year by the entire planet. Since 1987, this one nation, Japan, has slaughtered 10,000 whales, which has averaged 357 whales per year over the last 28 years.
The difference of course is that the 357 whales a year ended up on plates as sushi in Japan, instead of being examined in laboratories. And where there was a plethora of scientific papers published for the slain 950 whales prior to the great Japanese resurgence of whale research, not a single international, peer-reviewed scientific paper has been published about the slaughtered 10,000 whales since the program began in 1987.
The panel of IWC scientific experts are not the idiots that the ICR appear to think they are.
Japan can be expected to indulge in some intensive lobbying (in Japanese this is translated as bribing) at the next meeting of the IWC, but the writing is not only on the wall for commercial whaling, it has been chiseled into the stone.
Of course Japan may decide to go rogue and disregard world opinion and international law. They’ve done it before but when they did, it backfired on them with a very big bang.
Will Japan return to Antarctica to kill whales at the end of this year?
There is now a very good chance that they will not.
But somewhere in some ICR office in Japan, the bureaucrats are scheming for a new approach. I think we can predict that another brilliant plan will be unleashed to justify whaling in a world where whaling is no longer considered necessary, ethical or humane.
Sea Shepherd Concludes Epic Southern Ocean Campaign, Operation Icefish
Today, the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker anchored in Tema, Ghana, concluding anti-poaching campaign, Operation Icefish.
The campaign has drawn world-wide attention to the issue of poaching vulnerable Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish and has led the way for an unprecedented level of international cooperation in the fight against illegal fishing in the world's oceans.
In early December 2014, two Sea Shepherd ships, the Bob Barker Captained by Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, and the Sam Simon, Captained by Sid Chakravarty of India, departed Australia and New Zealand respectively to patrol the Southern Ocean shadowlands. The ships were in search of the six remaining toothfish poaching vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” - known to operate illegally in the waters of Antarctica.
On December 17 2014, the Bob Barker intercepted the most notorious of the poaching vessels, the Interpol-wanted Thunder, on the Banzare Bank, Antarctica. In the four-and-a-half months that followed, the Sea Shepherd ship engaged in a world record-breaking pursuit of the poaching vessel, covering approximately 11,533 nautical miles, from the Southern, to the Indian and finally ending in the Atlantic Ocean.
On December 25 2014, the Sam Simon commenced a four week-long operation to remove 72 kilometres of illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. The confiscated gear was later handed over to local authorities in Mauritius, initiating the first ever investigation into a fishing vessel issued with an Interpol Purple Notice.
On February 2, the Sam Simon intercepted another two of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the Kunlun and the Yongding, in Australian waters west of the Ross Sea, and subsequently pursued the Kunlun out of its Southern Ocean hunting grounds.
In March, the Kunlun and another of the “Bandit 6” vessels, the Viking, both of which have been issued with Interpol Purple Notices, were detained by authorities in South East Asia. Investigations into their crimes are currently underway.
On Monday, in an unexpected turn of events, the Thunder was scuttled in the waters of Sao Tome and Principe off the West African coast, following 110 days of pursuit by the Bob Barker. Sea Shepherd believes that the sinking was an intentional act of sabotage by the ship's captain and officers who were attempting to hide evidence of the vessel's illegal fishing activity.
The Sea Shepherd ships were able to rescue the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who all disembarked to life rafts before the Thunder sank.
The Thunder's crew was received by the Sam Simon, who delivered the rescued men to the Sao Tome and Principe coast guard later that evening. The crew of the Thunder have been detained in Sao Tome while investigation into the sinking of their vessel continues.
Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “As always, we measure our success by the numbers of lives we save. Through Operation Icefish, Sea Shepherd has not only saved the lives of countless toothfish, but we have also succeeded in protecting the many other marine creatures that would otherwise have fallen prey to the indiscriminate killing of these illegal fishers. We have cost the poachers millions of dollars in lost profits and have sent a very clear message to those that remain – poaching will not be tolerated in the waters of Antarctica.”
Captain Hammarstedt will continue to liaise with Interpol to hand over the final pieces of evidence collected from the Thunder.
Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said “The international cooperative efforts that Operation Icefish has spawned have paved the way for a new approach to fighting international fishing crimes. Spearheaded by the efforts of Sea Shepherd, and coordinated by the specialised Environmental Crimes Unit of Interpol, the governments of the world have sprung into action. It has been a truly inspiring experience and an honour to lead our dedicated crews in this campaign.”
Captain Chakravarty will continue to liaise with authorities in Sao Tome and Principe regarding the crew of the Thunder. Sea Shepherd will also be available to assist should the Yongding try to make port in the coming weeks.
Operation Icefish was Sea Shepherd's first campaign to target Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing of toothfish in the waters of Antarctica, and the organisation's longest, continuous at-sea campaign to date.
Another Impossible Mission Made Possible by Sea Shepherd
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
110 Days – the longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history is finally over.
The Thunder – the most notorious of the Bandit Six – is no more. The ship now rests 4,000 meters down on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. 72 kilometers of the Thunder’s illegal gill net are onboard the Sam Simon. Two other poachers, the Kunlun and the Viking, have been detained – the Kunlun in Thailand and the Viking in Malaysia.
This has been the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations.
Captain Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden on the Bob Barker and Captain Sid Chakravarty of India on the Sam Simon and their crews have done an incredible job in this four-month odyssey that began with the Sam Simon in Wellington, New Zealand and the Bob Barker in Hobart, Tasmania. The ships have crossed the Southern Ocean, the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and up the South Atlantic to cross the equator on day 109 into the North Atlantic. The chase covered 10,260 nautical miles.
40 fishermen abandoned their sinking ship. Sea Shepherd crew collected the evidence of their illegal activities with a boarding party sent onto the Thunder. All 40 men were taken aboard the Sam Simon (30 Indonesian, seven Spanish, two Chilean and one Portuguese) and given food and blankets. There were no injuries sustained by the crews of any of the three ships. The Bob Barker escorted the Sam Simon to Sao Tome, where the Thunder crew were turned over to authorities.
No oil was observed after the sinking of the Thunder and there was very little fuel left onboard at the time of the sinking. All evidence gathered will be turned over to INTERPOL.
For over a decade the poachers have been fishing with impunity in the Southern Ocean. The last pursuit was in 2003, when the Australian Customs ship Southern Supporter chased the Uruguayan poacher VirasI for 21 days from Heard Island to the middle of the South Atlantic.
The poachers’ supremacy over the waters of the Southern Ocean ended this year.
Operation Icefish has focused attention on the illegal poaching of toothfish like never before, and has involved the authorities in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mauritius, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Spain and INTERPOL.
Nigeria stripped the Thunder of her registry and flag during the pursuit.
The crews on both the Sam Simon and the Bob Barker have carried out a marathon campaign that has ended in success.
Sea Shepherd holds no animosity to the crew of the Thunder. They were treated with kindness and consideration and fed vegan meals. Most if not all the Indonesian crew may be forced laborers; that is a situation that requires investigation. It is not for Sea Shepherd to decide the fate of these men; they will now be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.
The scuttling of the Thunder was a deliberate act of desperation by a crew that has been abandoned by their unscrupulous, wealthy owners, alleged to be fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain. Spanish police have already raided some of these companies in the search for evidence.
The net is being closed around these illegal operations, the source of the illegal Chilean Sea Bass presently being sold in restaurants and markets around the world. In addition, more and more exposure is being given to the virtual slavery involved in the crewing of these pirate-fishing operations.
Sea Shepherd, her captains, officers, crew, shore staff and volunteers have done an amazing job and have carved a place in maritime history. Many of the “experts” and politicians said that Sea Shepherd would not even find the poachers or would be unable to stop them. They even insinuated that Sea Shepherd would be charged with illegal fishing if the net was retrieved, or sued for damages by the companies backing the illegal vessels.
Sea Shepherd ignored the nay-sayers, found Thunder, located the Kunlun and Yongding and Songhua, confiscated the net, and chased the Thunder until it surrendered with the poachers’ dramatic scuttling of their own ship.
Aside from the Viking, detained in Malyasia, the other member of the Bandit 6 is the Perlon. Three of the six stopped, two detained and one sunk is a powerful blow to the operators of this cartel. The cargos of the Viking and the Kunlun have been detained and the cargo of the Thunder lost. Together this cargo could be worth between $6 million and $12 million in financial losses.
Sea Shepherd has intervened over the years against illegal fisheries worldwide. We have conducted campaigns to defend tuna, dolphins from tuna seiners, shark, cod, salmon, sea cucumbers, lobsters, bluefin tuna, and toothfish. These campaigns have not been easy but they have been effective. We were sued by a Maltese tuna company for freeing 800 illegally caught fish and we prevailed in court. The Costa Ricans are still pursuing me for defending sharks. The Canadian government took me to court for protecting cod but we prevailed in the Canadian courts in that case also. Our battles on the sea and in the courts have never been easy but as my old friend Al Johnson said in our early days, “Hey, if it was easy, everyone would be doing this.”
Operation Icefish was not easy. The logistics of deploying two large ships on voyages each exceeding 10,000 miles and covering remote locations, extreme weather conditions, pulling in 72 kilometers of gill net, chasing poachers, debating politicians and bureaucrats, resupplying at sea, delivering evidence, rescuing fishermen and communicating to the media has been a challenge. However, the challenge was met without Sea Shepherd’s crew sustaining any injuries and without any injuries to the opposition. It could not have gone any better.
All in all it was an epic, historic campaign and I am immensely proud of what Sea Shepherd has accomplished with Operation Icefish.
Operation Icefish was a campaign of Relentless Passion, Persistence, Patience, Steadfastness, Seamanship, Success and Courage.
THE THUNDER HAS SUNK!
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Sea Shepherd anti-poaching ship Bob Barker has reported that the unflagged toothfish-poaching vessel Thunder has sunk.
The ship went down in 4000 metres of water in the position of 00 Degrees 19' North & 005 Degrees 25' East. This is 19 nautical miles north of the Equator and 115 miles from Sao Tome.
The film crews onboard the Bob Barker and onboard the Sam Simon filmed the Thunder as it slid beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean inside the EEZ of the nation of Sao Tome.
The evidence is that the Thunder was deliberately scuttled by her captain to destroy the evidence of their illegal fishing operations in the Southern Ocean.
The 40 crew of the Thunder are presently onboard the Sam Simon and under observation as Sea Shepherd awaits a response for assistance from Nigeria or Sao Tome.
“Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done - doors and hatches were tied open and the fishhold was opened. It is an incredibly suspicious situation, to say the least,” said Captain Peter Hammarstedt.
The pursuit of the Thunder has ended after 110 days with the Thunder sunk and no injuries to the crews on any of the vessels.
Sea Shepherd Boards the Thunder
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
All officers and crew have abandoned the Thunder.
Three crewmembers from the Bob Barker have boarded the Thunder.
The Bob Barker boarding party was able to secure and remove a computer, mobile phones and charts from the Thunder. The logbook seems to have been removed or destroyed. Secured evidence also included a whole toothfish now in the freezer of the Bob Barker.
All evidence points to an intentional sinking. The depth of the sea is 4,000 meters. There will be no recovery.
The Thunder is listing heavily. The crew observed that the engine is completely flooded and the cargo hatches have been opened. There do not seem to be any injuries amongst the crew of the Thunder.
Australian Search and Rescue has attempted to contact the Nigerian Navy but so far there has been no response. No response from Sao Tome either.
All 39 of the Thunder’s crew are in lifeboats in calm seas. The Sam Simon and Bob Barker are on the scene but will not recover crew unless there is an emergency. Sea Shepherd is awaiting assistance from either Nigerian or Sao Tome authorities. Both Captain Hammarstedt and Captain Chakravarty consider the Thunder crew to be potentially violent. The seas are very calm and the weather is good. The crew of the Thunder are quite safe and under close observation.
One thing is certain however – the career of this most notorious toothfish boat is now over. It will never return to the Southern Ocean.
Poaching Vessel, Thunder, Sinks in Suspicious Circumstances
At 1152 GMT today, the notorious poaching vessel, Thunder, sank at 0˚ 20' North 05˚ 23' East inside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Sao Tome.
The Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Sam Simon are in the process of rescuing the entire crew of 40, including the captain, officers, and deck crew, who were all able to disembark to liferafts from the Thunder before it sank.
Captain of the Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said, “When my Chief Engineer boarded the Thunder in the hours leading up to the sinking, he was able to confirm that there were clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. Usually when a vessel is sinking, the captain will close all hatches so as to maintain buoyancy. However, on the Thunder, the reverse was done - doors and hatches were tied open and the fishhold was opened. It is an incredibly suspicious situation, to say the least.”
Sea Shepherd has been able to confirm that, at this time, there have been no reported injuries.
The crew of the Thunder have been supplied with food and water, and will now be received by the Sam Simon.
Captain of the Sam Simon, Sid Chakravarty, said, “With the safety of my own crew also in mind, we will now take every precaution to ensure that the crew of the Thunder is retrieved from the lifeboats safely.”
The Thunder is the most notorious of six vessels – which Sea Shepherd calls the “Bandit 6” - that are know to engage in Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing of vulnerable toothfish in the Southern Ocean.
The Bob Barker has been engaged in a four-month, record-breaking pursuit of the vessel, which has gone from the Southern, to the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans.
On December 25 2014, the Sam Simon commenced retrieval operations to remove the illegal fishing gear abandoned by the Thunder when it first fled from the Bob Barker. More than 72 kilometres of illegal gillnet was recovered over a three week period and over 1,400 fish, weighing a total of 45,000 kilograms, were returned to the ocean.
On February 25 2015, the Sam Simon handed over the confiscated fishing gear as evidence of the Thunder's illegal fishing activity to authorities in Mauritius.
In March, another two of the Bandit 6, the Viking and Kunlun, were detained by authorities in South East Asia. The captains of both vessels were arrested for fisheries related crimes.
The poaching vessels are the target of Sea Shepherd's first Southern Ocean Defence Campaign to target IUU fishing operators in the waters of Antarctica, Operation Icefish.