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VIDEO: Piracy or protest?

Their supporters — and fans of their reality TV show — call them heroes. The Japanese government calls them terrorists.

Now one of the largest U.S. federal courts has labeled them “pirates.”

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was founded by Paul Watson to relentlessly disrupt Japan’s annual whale hunt off Antarctica. The clashes make for dramatic headlines and photos, and entertaining television on the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.”

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “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 same court last December ordered the organization to keep its vessels at least 500 yards from the Japanese whalers. The whalers since have accused the protesters of violating that order at least twice this month, according to a report by the Seattle Times.

Click play to watch a Feb. 25 collision between the Japanese whale ship Nisshin Maru and the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker.

The Ninth Court’s ruling overturned a trial judge’s decision siding with the protesters and tossing out a lawsuit filed by a group of Japanese whalers seeking a court-ordered halt to the aggressive tactics.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones had sided with Sea Shepherd on several grounds in tossing out the whalers’ piracy accusations and refusing to prohibit the Sea Shepherd’s protests. He determined that the protesters’ tactics were non-violent because they targeted equipment and ships rather than people.

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However, media-savvy Sea Shepherd is not taking the ruling without a fight, declaring in a release that “Japanese whale poachers … are pirates of greed getting away with murder.”

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Moreover, Sea Shepherd has called for the case to be reviewed again before an 11-judge Ninth Circuit Court panel.

“Clearly, this is a bad decision by the Ninth Circuit Court but not unexpected,” said Scott West, director of intelligence and investigations for Sea Shepherd U.S. “But it’s an opinion; everyone has one. Beyond that, the vitriolic and grandstanding manner in which the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion makes us seriously doubt their qualifications for making a just decision. This court is part of the problem, not the solution.

“Not only is there no room for such a biased and unprofessional legal opinion, they somehow have the audacity to throw a highly respected, honored judge — one of their own — under the bus in order to side with foreign interests. Is this a decision of an American court, or have we somehow mistakenly landed in Japan?”