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Anti-whaling activists pursue Japanese ships

The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd is conducting its annual pursuit of Japanese whaling vessels. Activists say they have evidence of several whales being slaughtered.

Sea Shepherd said on Monday it had caught up with all five of Japan's whaling vessels in the icy waters off Antarctica and captured evidence that four whales had been slaughtered.

"There's three carcasses on the ship, a fourth carcass has been cut up. There's blood all over the place, meat being carted around on this factory ship deck, offal and innards being dumped in the ocean," Bob Brown, the chairman of Sea Shepherd Australia, said.

He described what he had seen as "a gruesome, bloody, medieval scene which has got no place in this modern world."

The group used a helicopter to shoot pictures (one seen above) of the Japanese vessels from the air. The photos show three minke whales dead on the deck of the factory ship Nisshin Maru. The group said a fourth whale was being slaughtered when the helicopter flew overhead.

Brown also claimed that one of the ships was inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, calling the alleged violation a "gross breach of international law."

'Scientific program'

A spokesman for Japan's fisheries agency responded to Brown's claims by saying: "We are not aware of the existence of a whaling sanctuary, so we don't want to comment on their arguments."

Japan says it is hunting the animals for scientific purposes under an exception to a 1986 ban on whaling. This year, it is planning to kill about 1,000 whales as part of what it calls a "research plan submitted to the IWC (International Whaling Commission)."

Opponents argue, however, that this is just a cover for commercial whaling, as the meat not used for study is sold as food in Japan.

Sea Shepherd engages every year in sometimes forceful clashes with Japanese whaling ships while trying to make them stop their hunt. Stink bombs, water cannon and ship collisions are a common feature, and in one year a Sea Shepherd boat sank after its bow was sheared off.

Australia went last year to the United Nations' highest court

in a bid to outlaw Japan's annual whale hunt. The International Court of Justice is expected to issue a ruling sometime this year.

tj/jm (AP, AFP)

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