On Friday, February 20, as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, Australian Federal Police served a search warrant and seized records and videos shot for the Animal Planet series Whale Wars. According to a statement on the Sea Shepherd site, the warrant authorized the seizing of “all edited and raw video footage, all edited and raw audio recordings, all still photographs, producer’s notes, interview transcripts, production meeting minutes, post production meeting minutes as well as the ship’s log books, global positioning system records, automatic radar plotting aid, purchase records, receipts, financial transaction records, voyage information and navigational plotted charts.”
The statement adds: “The Animal Planet series Whale Wars was very embarrassing to the Japanese government and the Japanese whaling industry in 2008. Japan does not wish to see the airing of the second season of Whale Wars and is putting as much diplomatic pressure on Australia as they possibly can to prevent further exposure of their illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean.”
An Australian federal agent said the raid resulted from a formal referral from Japanese authorities and that police were undertaking preliminary inquiries into this summer’s Southern Ocean confrontation. Sea Shepherd says two crew members were injured when Japanese whalers used water cannon, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons and threw brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd boats. Japanese whalers claim the Steve Irwin rammed them.
The seized videos, which reportedly depict the clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd activists, may be turned over to the Japanese government. According to Don Rothwell, an Australian National University law professor quoted in the media, legal obligations mean evidence of alleged maritime offenses could be forwarded to Japan.
The Japanese government-owned fleet’s president, Kazuo Yamamura, is calling on Australian authorities to impose international agreements. “These maritime laws are not options,” Yamamura said. “If they are not applied, they are of little value.” This is highly ironic coming from a group that openly flouts the international ban on whale hunting in the Southern Ocean. Japan circumvents the ban by using an International Whaling Commission loophole that permits research of the whales.
Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd said the Steve Irwin had never been searched before, but he welcomes any charges that led to the crew facing a court. “My position is that if they want to put me on trial for anything connected with this, then I am happy to do it,” he said. “We are not there protesting; we are down there to stop a blatantly criminal activity, to stop whaling in a whale sanctuary. These actions have to go to court somewhere, so let’s start it here.”