The Australian, New Zealand, U.S. and Dutch governments voiced strong opposition to Japan's plan to hunt whales in the Antarctic Ocean in the coming weeks, while they also called on both whalers and anti-whaling activists not to engage in dangerous behavior at sea.
In a joint statement issued as the Japanese whaling fleet and Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessels are headed for the southern waters, they said, "Our governments remain resolutely opposed to commercial whaling, including so-called 'scientific' whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission."
They condemned "any actions at sea that may cause injury, loss of human life or damage to property or the marine environment during the 2013/14 Southern Ocean whaling season."
Dangerous behavior in the treacherous and remote waters around Antarctica "jeopardizes not only the safety of whaling and protest vessels and their crews but also anyone who comes to their assistance," they said.
At the same time, the four governments said they respect the right to the freedom of expression, including peaceful protests on the high seas, so long as they are conducted without violence. Any unlawful activity from either side will be dealt with in accordance to relevant domestic and international laws, they warned.
Australia, with support from New Zealand, has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice, arguing that Japan's "scientific research" whaling program is a cover for commercial whaling in breach of its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. A ruling is expected shortly.
Sea Shepherd launched its 10th anti-whaling campaign, Operation Relentless, this week, expecting to intercept Japanese vessels in the southern waters around late December.
The organization credits its campaign for Japanese whalers' poor achievement during the last whaling season, in which they caught only 10 percent of their around 1,000-whale quota.
During the current season, which lasts through March, they aim to slaughter up to 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales.