Sea Shepherd lets Australia foot bill for retrieving anti-whaling activists from Japanese ship


The Sea Shepherd ship "Bob Barker" — one of three operated by the militant anti-whaling activists — is moored in Hobart as it prepares to leave to confront the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean on December 13, 2011.


William West

Now Australians love a whale as much as anyone — and more than many.

Australia has even filed a complaint against Tokyo at the International Court of Justice in the Hague in an attempt to end Japan's "scientific" whaling.

Japan, of course, has ignored the action and continued whaling regardless: a fact brought to light in spectacular style this week after three Australian anti-whaling activists boarded a Japanese ship protecting the Japanese whaling fleet heading to the Southern Ocean on its annual hunt. 

Their aim was to stop the Shonan Maru 2 from chasing fellow activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society aboard their own pursuit vessel, in a strange synergy named Steve Irwin for the late Australian conservationist (and croc wrestler, lest we forget). 

(Read more: Japan agrees to release 3 activists from whaling fleet patrol ship; Appeals for release of 3 Australians held aboard Japanese whaling ship)

(FYI — the Bob Barker, in the picture accompanying this post, is named for the US game show host, a long-time advocate of animal rights who reportedly gave Sea Shepherd $5 million to buy and equip a long-range pursuit ship.)

It's a tale with many twists that would be almost comical if it weren't for the heart of the matter — the (some would say illegal, immoral and unsustainable) hunting of the planet's biggest mammals, who most likely never hurt a Japanese person in their lives.

But here's a question: will the average Aussie taxpayer love whales as much when they see the bill for retrieving those three anti-whaling activists from the Shonan Maru 2?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard hasn't put an exact figure on sending the Customs vessel Ocean Protector, but estimates it's "in the vicinity of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars."

And a suggestion by Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon that the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group, whose boat the activists were purportedly trying to help, consider contributing to the cost, was met by outrage from, guess who: the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group.

"The suggestion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney General Nicola Roxon that Sea Shepherd help foot the bill for the recovery of three Australian citizens from the Shonan Maru #2 is absurd,” Sea Shepherd skipper Paul Watson wrote in a letter to Gillard, reported in the Murdoch press.

Not leaving any room for argument, Watson lists "10 valid reasons" why he "should not, and will not" pay a cent to bring the protesters back to Australian shores.

For good measure, the 10 valid reasons are listed on the group's website

The cost of getting tough on whaling — once a fervent promise of Gillard's Australian Labor Party — is "first and foremost a government responsibility," he wrote.

Roxon may well have summed up the sentiment of average Aussie taxpayers during a press conference this week, when she said that:

Whilst many millions of Australians would like to see whaling stop, many of them may also resent the cost that they are contributing for this handover and rescue, if you like, of Australian protesters.

You can read the full quote in The Sydney Morning Herald.