WOODSTOCK, Vt. — The founder of a radical conservation group made famous by the television show "Whale Wars" says a settlement over anti-whaling activities only prevents the group's U.S. organization from interfering with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.
This week, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research and a whale ship operator announced they'd reached an agreement with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its founder Paul Watson.
"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. and is living in Vermont. But he said the settlement doesn't affect the group's other entities.
"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, one of the most active in attacking Japanese whalers during their hunts in the Antarctic.
Officials in Japan are hoping the funding restriction will somehow limit the extent of Sea Shepherd's activities in Australia.
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 in the Antarctic.
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 about 10 days ago.
Watson, who grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, in a town on the Maine border, returned to Woodstock, Vermont, where he rents a home from the vice president of Sea Shepherd USA.
In his home 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.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.