The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will turn Godzilla loose on the Japanese whaling fleet this season in an effort to step up its Southern Ocean harassment campaign.
The swift and ominous-looking interceptor vessel has the moniker Gojira and was named after the ferocious monster in the legendary Japanese film, known in English as Godzilla.
The 115-foot boat launched Monday in Fremantle, Australia, and has joined the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker in Hobart. Later this week the three boats will begin the journey to Antarctic waters, where their crews will await the arrival of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Japan also will reportedly step things up. For the first time in three years the whaling ships will carry armed members of the Japan Coast Guard to help prevent sabotage by the activists, according to the Japan Times.
These seasonal confrontations have become increasingly tense, with high-seas collisions underscoring the danger and controversial nature of some of the methods used by Sea Shepherd, which has been criticized for risking human lives in its effort to save minke whales, which are not an endangered species.
Last season Sea Shepherd scuttled its interceptor vessel, the Ady Gil, after claiming it had been rammed and irreparably damaged by the crew of a Japanese vessel. New Zealand investigators found both crews to have been at fault.
Japan annually targets about 900 whales -- mostly minkes but also a handful of endangered fin whales -- during a three-month Southern Ocean season that generally begins in early December.
Japan gets around an International Whaling Commission ban against commercial whaling by using a "research" loophole and designating the hunts -- long considered an important part of Japanese culture and tradition -- as scientific missions.
However, pressure to persuade Japan to curtail its effort has been mounting. The IWC last spring submitted a proposal calling for Japan to reduce its quota to about 200 over a 10-year period. Australia has been trying to use an international court to halt whaling in the Antarctic, where the slaughter of whales occurs within a designated sanctuary.
Last season the Japanese fleet killed 506 minke whales and one fin whale. Officials with Japan's Fisheries Agency and the Institute of Cetacean Research regard Sea Shepherd as a terrorist organization and have acknowledged its harassment has obstructed the hunting objective.
Though the whaling missions are said to be scientific, whale meat is sold commercially throughout Japan.
"The factory ship is the one we're after and if we can find it, we can shut down whaling," Sea Shepherd spokesman Jeff Hansen told reporters in Australia. "We can save 10 to 12 whales a day by blocking the slipway on the factory ship, so really this vessel is going to play a huge part in shutting down the Japanese whaling fleet for the entire summer."
This will be Sea Shepherd's seventh campaign against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic during the Southern Hemisphere summer, and the fourth season with an Animal Planet crew aboard, filming for its popular "Whale Wars" series.
-- Image of Gojira is by Alexis Bachofen © Eye in the Sky