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Sea Shepherd Lobbies U.S. Court to Stop Whalers

(CN) - Environmental group Sea Shepherd has asked a federal court to bar Japanese fleets from violating international bans on whaling.

The request comes as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is fighting against a related federal court ruling that the group's anti-whaling activities are illegal.

Last year, the 9th Circuit ruled that Sea Shepherd was in contempt of a court injunction barring it from coming within 500 yards of Japanese whaling ships.

In an amended counterclaim filed in a Seattle federal court earlier this month, Sea Shepherd asked a judge to declare Japan-based Institute for Cetacean Research's whaling activities illegal under international law.

It also seeks an injunction barring the whalers' "violent and dangerous attacks" on Sea Shepherd activists.

In April, Sea Shepherd also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the court order barring its anti-whaling activities.

That petition argued the 9th Circuit was overly broad in its reading of the Alien Tort statute, which is typically cited in cases of torture or genocide.

This week, Sea Shepherd attorney Claire Loebs Davis said an injunction would allow the group to defend whales. The group also wants a judge to dismiss the institute's lawsuit.

"Although Sea Shepherd maintains that the U.S. federal courts do not have the jurisdiction to intervene in disputes occurring on the high seas on the other side of the globe, once the courts are involved, they must take into account that Institute for Cetacean Research is engaged in activity that is illegal under international law," Davis, a partner at Seattle firm Lane Powell, said.

Sea Shepherd says that Japan has proposed killing 4,000 whales over the next decade under scientific research contracts that, according to the filing, are a "thinly disguised commercial whale hunt."

An international ban on whaling has been in effect since 1986. But Japanese government research contracts permitted the Institute of Cetacean Research to hunt and kill whales in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Last year, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to cease granting permits to the institute, concluding that the hunt was not of scientific value and violated international bans.

Sea Shepherd has campaigned against whalers for the last 10 years. The group's missions are documented in the Animal Planet television series "Whale Wars."

In February 2012, the federal court declined to bar Sea Shepherd and founder Paul Watson's activities in the Southern Ocean, after the institute claimed that the group had rammed vessels and launched acid-filled bottles and smoke bombs at Japanese crew.

Sea Shepherd meanwhile says the institute uses violent tactics, including ramming and hurling hooks and stun grenades, to prevent the group from defending whales.

After the whalers appealed the case to the 9th Circuit, however, Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski controversially ruled that it was the activists who were at fault.

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," Kozinski wrote of Sea Shepherd's tactics in 2013. "When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be."

The opinion supported a December 2012 injunction barring Sea Shepherd and Watson from attacking or coming within 500 yards of the vessels.

A contempt finding against Sea Shepherd came after the 9th Circuit found the group had given ships and equipment to an Australian arm of the organization.

Davis said that despite worldwide bans, Japanese whalers have continued to violate international law.

"Targeted species have included the endangered fin whale - one of the largest species on earth, more than 95 percent of which were wiped out by commercial whaling," Davis said in a statement, adding that the Institute for Cetacean Research killed whales "using brutal and inhumane methods."

The case is scheduled to go to trial next year.

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