WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Sea Shepherd Australia said Thursday that a legal settlement involving the conservation group's U.S. founder will not affect its anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean.
Spokesman Adam Burling said the Australian arm of the group has been deliberately independent from the U.S. organization since the court case began several years ago.
This week, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research and a whale ship operator announced they'd reached an agreement with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the U.S. and its founder Paul Watson.
The group was made famous by the television show "Whale Wars." Typically each Southern Hemisphere summer, Sea Shepherd sends out boats to try and stop Japan's whaling fleet from catching whales in the Southern Ocean.
Burling said the Japanese fleet has a quota of 333 minke whales this summer, and Sea Shepherd Australia plans to make an announcement next week about what kind of campaign it intends to run this year.
"We've got a brand-new vessel, the first ship in 40 years that has been custom-built for us, called the Ocean Warrior," he said. "We've got a long-term commitment to end whaling."
Burling said most of its budget comes from fundraising within Australia and that Sea Shepherd New Zealand also provides support for the ships at New Zealand docks.
Speaking this week from his home office in Woodstock, Vermont, Watson said the settlement only prevents the group's U.S. organization from interfering with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.
"What it means is Sea Shepherd USA cannot contribute money toward the Southern Ocean campaign, cannot be involved in the Southern Ocean campaign, and that's fine. We've got plenty of other campaigns to do," said Watson, who recently returned to the U.S.
"Whether Sea Shepherd Australia or Sea Shepherd Global ... if they intend to return to the Southern Ocean that's their business, it's not ours and I can't control them," he said of the settlement filed on Tuesday.
The Institute of Cetacean Research, which studies whales, also is paying an undisclosed amount to the anti-whaling group on the condition the money will not be transferred to its affiliates elsewhere, including in Australia.
Japan Agriculture Minister Yuji Yamamoto on Thursday welcomed the agreement, saying, "I take it as a positive development that would contribute to the safety of the research whaling fleet."
Yamamoto, however, said that Japanese whalers should continue to use caution and be aware that there are staunch opponents of whaling.
Sea Shepherd Global media director Heather Stimmler said all of its entities around the world — except those in the United States — will continue to oppose what it believes is illegal Japanese whaling near Antarctica.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales under an exemption for what the country says is research.
Interpol lists Watson as being wanted in Japan on charges of conspiracy to trespass on a whaling ship and interference with business, and in Costa Rica on a charge of interfering with a shark finning operation.
Watson, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, was arrested in Germany but then fled to sea for 15 months when he said he heard that he would be extradited to Japan. He then lived in France for two years before he said he was allowed to come back to the U.S., which he did within the last two weeks.
In his office, surrounded by artifacts from his journeys, the 65-year-old Watson said he will continue to coordinate with other Sea Shepherd entities. As president of Sea Shepherd USA, he said is in touch every day with the ship captains who are working on campaigns, such as with the Mexican Navy to protect an endangered fish and dolphin, and doing research on viruses and parasites among farm-raised salmon.
"Japan made a big mistake because they thought by removing me they'd shut down Sea Shepherd. That's precisely why I wanted Sea Shepherd to become a movement and not something controlled by me. A lot of people think I am Sea Shepherd. No I'm not, I'm just part of it," he said.
Rathke reported from Woodstock, Vermont. AP writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed.