The militant conservation group Sea Shepherd will head for Antarctic waters on Wednesday to harass Japanese whalers, as Greenpeace ramps up its campaign in Tokyo.
But the only international oversight of the annual hunt that has strained Australia’s relationship with Japan will be provided by New Zealand.
Australia has said it will not send a Customs vessel to monitor the cull, as it did last year, as the ship sent last season had gathered enough evidence for any future legal action.
Greenpeace has also decided not to send a vessel this time, saying it was focused on the political fight in Tokyo to stop whaling.
That leaves only the Sea Shepherd flagship, the Steve Irwin, with the task of trying to frustrate the activities of eight Japanese whaling vessels.
New Zealand has said its air force will conduct regular surveillance missions to keep tabs on the whalers, but no ship would be sent to the hunting grounds.
New Zealand has urged the warring parties to show restraint following last year’s dramatic confrontations that saw stink bombs hurled, activists detained and claims that whalers had fired on Sea Shepherd protesters.
The Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin will leave Brisbane on Wednesday, carrying US actress and environmental campaigner Daryl Hannah.
Paul Watson, who captains the Steve Irwin, has promised another fierce campaign, saying he believes it could be more violent than those of past years.
He said he believed the Japanese whalers would be “more aggressive” than last year because they felt desperate after having returned in that season with just 551 minke whales – little more than half their target catch.
“How much longer can they (Japanese whalers) keep losing profits?” he said.
“Last year, they made a $70 million loss. For three years they have been making losses.”
Hannah said the whaling industry could be shut down if conservation groups worked together and governments enforced anti-whaling laws.
“They are hunting endangered species in a marine protected area,” she said.
“It is surprising and shocking to me that governments are not doing this work – that it is up to individuals and non-government organisations to uphold international law and protect endangered species.
“If Greenpeace would join forces with Sea Shepherd they would shut down the whaling industry right away. If they were really serious and held their convictions they could accomplish this.”
Greenpeace campaigner Reece Turner said the group was pouring its resources into Japan where the future of whaling would be decided.
“The decision to end whaling will be made in Japan and that’s where Greenpeace is committed to focusing our resources this year,” Turner said, noting Greenpeace had sent a ship for the past nine seasons.
“Our work in Japan with Japanese campaigners has placed the whaling industry under unprecedented scrutiny.”
She said the industry was showing signs of pressure with a top whale meat restaurant and store closing last month.
The Japanese whalers left the port of Innoshima near Hiroshima last week.