Activists: Whalers hurt by their own pepper spray

Maideline Sanchez

ADELAIDE, Australia – Japanese whalers who complained of injuries from rancid butter thrown at them by an anti-whaling group were actually suffering from their own pepper spray attack, the protesters said Saturday.

Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd protest vessel Steve Irwin, said in a statement that video of Thursday’s incident showed wind blowing the spray into the faces of the Japanese crew who were aiming it at the activists.

The Japanese said Friday three crew members had eye and face injuries from butyric acid, produced from bottles of stinking rancid butter that the activists sometimes aim at the ships. The activists maintain that butyric acid is nontoxic.

Watson said the Sea Shepherd video showed two of the Japanese crew on the deck of the Shonan Maru 2 wearing metal tanks on their backs. He said they aimed their nozzles and sprayed at the Sea Shepherd crew in an inflatable boat.

“However, the wind was not in favor of this Japanese tactic and the pepper spray is blown back into the faces of the three crew, who can be clearly seen rubbing their eyes. They appear to be suffering irritation to their eyes,” the statement said. “I think this video absolves Sea Shepherd of any wrongdoing and demonstrates that the Japanese whalers routinely spin their stories to demonize our efforts to defend the whales from their illegal activities.”

The injuries were the first to Japanese whalers this year during confrontations with Sea Shepherd, although there have been two ship collisions that each side blamed on the other.

Japan has a six-vessel whaling fleet in Antarctic waters as part of a research program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales, which are not an endangered species. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.

Sea Shepherd, a U.S.-based activist group, sends vessels to confront the Japanese fleet each year, trying to block them from firing harpoons at the whales.