Minke Wales in the Antarctic: Japan will undertake 'non-lethal' research in 2014-15 ahead of a lethal hunt the following summer. Photo: Frederique Olivier
Japan's whalers will send four ships south next summer, with plans to use biopsy guns instead of harpoons after its Antarctic hunt was outlawed by the International Court of Justice.
Three whale chaser ships and a fourth security vessel will undertake a non-lethal research program in Japan's usual whaling grounds south of Australia and New Zealand, an official plan says.
Only the factory ship Nisshin Maru would be absent from the Antarctic under the survey proposal put before the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission.
The ships will be confined to sightings, surveys and biopsy sampling in 2014-15 ahead of the Japanese Government's plans to resume a lethal hunt the following summer as it tries to revive legal commercial whaling.
Institute of Cetacean Research scientist Koji Matsuoka said the priority would be to gather abundance estimates for Antarctic minke whales and other baleen whale species.
"Also, non-lethal research will be conducted as much as possible within the available ship time," his proposal to the commission says.
Crossbows and darting guns would be used to gain biopsy samples on large whales. In minke whales, work would focus on biopsy sampling and faeces observation and collection.
At least one experienced Japanese researcher will be aboard each ship and international researchers have been invited to join the voyage at their own expense.
Japan's Fisheries Minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, last month said his government intended to submit a new Antarctic lethal research program to the commission later this year in line with the court's decision, with "hunting plans" for 2015-16.
In the case brought by Australia, the court said Japan's whaling program breached commission rules for scientific research and the moratorium on commercial whaling.
Greens whaling spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson said this summer's research plans should be seen as a forerunner to a planned full scale slaughter in 2015-16.
“The same boats that slaughtered hundreds of whales over previous years will be collecting data to sneak around the International Court of Justice ruling," Senator Whish-Wilson said.
"The Australian Government needs to state in the strongest terms that it won’t co-operate with, and will take whatever actions are necessary to prevent, Japanese plans to bring back whaling."
Anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd Australia confirmed on Wednesday that they would also return to the Antarctic to track the Japanese vessels.
"We will be going down, definitely," a Sea Shepherd Australia spokesman said. "We are yet to decide which ships will go."
Comment was sought from Environment Minister Greg Hunt.