~Whaling fleet has expanded
~Japan "laughs at Australia"
AUSTRALIAN conservationists fear Japan has taken its aggressive defence of whaling slaughter to new intensity as the first shots in this year's Antarctic whale wars are fired.
The Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin and a Japanese whale hunter on the Shonan Maru 2 exchanged high-powered water cannon salvos 1200 nautical miles south of Western Australia on Monday, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said he believed Japan had put military personnel on board the Shonan Maru 2 and possibly other ships.
"The Shonan Maru is bristling with defences and the crew are acting very military - the way they operate, the way they move about the ship is very different to past years,'' he said.
"It has four sonic cannons this year, last year they had one. And there are spikes all along its side and netting to stop boarding."
Mr Watson said the clash happened at about 2pm (AEDT) when he looped the Steve Irwin around an iceberg, did a figure eight out of view of the Shonan Maru 2 and re-emerged within a few hundred metres of the whaler.
Mr Watson said Japan's whaling fleet has been expanded this year to four whale hunters, a factory ship, a supply ship, a spotting vessel and two "security vessels".
The Shonan Maru 2 has been shadowing the Steve Irwin since the Sea Shepherd ship left Perth on December 9.
A Japanese spotter aircraft has also been keeping constant surveillance.
Last night, Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told his counterpart Kevin Rudd that the Sea Shepherd's actions threatened the safety of the whaling fleet and requested Australia take appropriate action.
It is believed that Mr Rudd responded by again threatening legal action against Japan over the hunt of whales if "a diplomatic resolution proves difficult'', echoing similar remarks he made last week in Australia.
But Mr Watson launched a scathing attack on Mr Rudd and Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
"They just lied to get elected. Japan just laughs at Australia. It's all talk and no action," he said.
Japan launches an annual flotilla to kill whales in the Southern Ocean south of Australia to outcry and physical opposition from conservation groups. The whales are used for food in Japan but Tokyo uses a loophole in an international moratorium that allows whaling for "scientific research".
Despite assurances by the new centre-left Japanese Government that it would not kill humpbacks, Mr Watson said the species was listed on the whalers' permit.
"I've seen the permit and it lists 935 minke whales, 20 fin whales and 50 humpbacks," he said
that title is so deceiving! but the show is LOL. except when you do see a whale get hauled on board or harpooned. but i'm seriously just looking forward the BAMF ady gil showing up. i dont like how watson gives away all their cards. too much publicity.