'Whale Wars' Stars Called Pirates By Federal Judge, As Anti-Whaling Advocates Dealt Blow

02/27/2013 02:25 pm ET | Updated Feb 27, 2013

A group of anti-whaling advocates was dealt a harsh rebuke Monday after a United States federal appeals court labeled them pirates.

On Feb. 25, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier decision by a Seattle trial judge that sided with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the Associated Press reports. In his ruling, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski agreed with the Japanese groups who originally filed suit against Sea Shepherd in 2011, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes.

The society, founded by Paul Watson, has long been known for its aggressive tactics in working to disrupt whaling vessels, according to USA Today. (Sea Shepherd ships are featured in the popular Animal Planet series "Whale Wars.")

Writing for the court, Kozinski said Sea Shepherd ships are in the wrong for the tactics they use in their quest to hinder Japanese whaling activities.

"You don't need a peg leg or an eye patch," he wrote, according to AP. "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."

Kozinski also strongly criticized U.S. District Judge Richard Jones, the judge of the original ruling, and asked that the case be transferred to a different judge.

Speaking with KIRO radio, Scott West, director of investigations for Sea Shepherd, said the court's decision has no bearing.

"What Sea Shepherd Australia is doing with Australian flagged vessels and Dutch flagged vessels down in the Australian Antarctic territory is outside of any sort of control of the courts in the United States," West said.

The confrontation occurred as the Japanese ships were attempting to access a refueling tanker, according to a Feb. 20 Associated Press report. But Japan's Fisheries Agency claimed the Sea Shepherd boats instigated the contact and hit the Japanese ships on purpose.

Despite an international ban on the practice, Japan commercially hunts whales using a loophole that allows for whale harvesting for research, the Agence France-Presse reports.

Speaking to the AFP on Feb. 26, Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Japanese minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said that Japan would not stop its whaling practices any time in the foreseeable future.

"In some countries they eat dogs, like Korea. In Australia they eat kangaroos," Hayashi said. "We don't eat those animals, but we don't stop them from doing that because we understand that's their culture."

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