Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Whaling Protesters in Contempt, 9th Circ. Says

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) - Sea Shepherd USA is in contempt of court for ceding ships and equipment to an Australian arm of the organization, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Though whaling has been banned internationally since 1986, Japanese government research contracts allow the Institute of Cetacean Research to kill whales in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has embarked on anti-whaling campaigns against the institute for the last 10 years. The group's missions against the whalers are also the focus of the Animal Planet television series "Whale Wars."

Whalers asked a federal judge in Seattle to enjoin Sea Shepherd and its founder Paul Watson back in 2011, claiming that the group had rammed its vessels and launched acid-filled bottles and smoke bombs at Japanese crew.

Both parties have labeled the other as a pirate, but the 9th Circuit sided with the whalers on that point last year.

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch. 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," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote at the time.

That ruling reinforced a December 2012 injunction barring Sea Shepherd and Watson from attacking the Japanese vessels or coming within 500 yards of them.

Watson and Sea Shepherd folded their plans for a mission called Operation Zero Tolerance, and ceded control of four ships, crew and equipment to Sea Shepherd Australia, in a so-called "separation strategy," according to court records.

The whalers took Sea Shepherd to court again, this time claiming that the activists were in contempt for embarking on Operation Zero Tolerance after all.

In a Dec. 19 order, Judge Milan D. Smith agreed - finding that the U.S. arm had clearly violated the court's orders by handing over millions of dollars in assets to activists, knowing full well they would then violate the injunction.

"Sea Shepherd US ceded control over Operation Zero Tolerance to Sea Shepherd Australia and other Sea Shepherd entities it believed to be beyond the injunction's reach, knowing these entities were virtually certain to violate the injunction," Smith wrote. "At the same time, Sea Shepherd US continued to provide financial and other support for OZT after the injunction by, among other things, transferring for no consideration a vessel and equipment worth millions of dollars to Sea Shepherd Australia and other entities."

Smith said that the whalers had shown that Watson knew that if Sea Shepherd cut ties, Operation Zero Tolerance stood a better chance of evading the court's order and going ahead.

"The Japanese whalers are coming. There is no doubt about that. The question is how do we stop them now," Watson wrote in an email to Sea Shepherd's captains. "If we back down to the 9th [Circuit] Court, the whales will die."

The court also found Watson and other individual volunteer board members in contempt.

Watson had stayed on the Sea Shepherd vessel "Steve Erwin" during the mission and had come within 500 yards of the whalers, the court found.

Smith said the whalers are entitled to seek attorney fees, costs, and damages. The whalers have asked for sanctions of $2 million.

Judge Kozinski and Judge A. Wallace Tashima joined Smith in the unanimous decision.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.