The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s flagship vessel Steve Irwin is in Lerwick Harbour as it prepares to set sail for the Faroe Islands for the campaign group’s efforts to prevent the annual slaughter of endangered pilot whales.
Named after the late Australian TV personality and conservationist Steve Irwin, known as “The Crocodile Hunter”, the 59-metre ship arrived in Shetland on Tuesday and is due to be joined by the society’s smaller 10-crew Brigitte Bardot on Friday.
The Steve Irwin features in Animal Planet television show Whale Wars, which follows captain of the ship and founder of the SSCS Paul Watson as he and his international crew of volunteers campaign to stifle the activities of the Japanese whaling fleet in the southern Antarctic.
She and the Brigitte Bardot, named after the French fashion model, actress, singer and animal rights campaigner, have also been in the Mediterranean this summer trying to protect blue fin tuna off the coast of Libya.
The SSCS is planning to deploy acoustic devices to establish a wall of sound in the path of migrating whales to deter the cetaceans from approaching the Faroe Islands, where locals each year conduct the slaughter of around 1,000 whales, known as the “Grind”.
Captain Watson said: “We’re going from Lerwick to the Faroe Islands and our objective is to do what we can to protect the pilot whales up there. The vessels will meet up in Lerwick and get prepared, get our provisions in and head out after the 15th.”
The “Grind” consists of the Faroese locals corralling pods of migrating pilot whales into shallow coves as they travel in family groups past the islands. Men, women and children await the arrival of the herded whales and drive them towards the shore where, according to the SSCS, they “bludgeon, spear, slash and scissor them to a slow death”.
Speaking to The Shetland Times from Jersey where he was attending the International Whaling Commission’s meeting this week, Captain Watson said the slaughter was not a commercial operation but was done for reasons of cultural tradition. After the whales are mutilated their bodies are not eaten or used in any way but instead are “tossed into a mass grave underwater”.
Captain Watson said it was wrong for the Faroese to benefit from EU money through the subsidies it receives from Denmark, of which Faroe is a constituent country, while at the same time claiming exemption from European laws banning the slaughter of whales. “If they’re going to receive subsidies they should abide by the regulations,” he said.