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Anti-whaling group launches Antarctic expedition
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A radical conservation group that has vowed to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt launched its Antarctic campaign today in Melbourne by renaming one of its ships after Steve Irwin, the late environmental campaigner and television personality.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has pledged to do whatever it takes to stop Japan from harvesting up to 50 humpbacks, 935 minkes and 50 fin whales from the Southern Ocean in what Japan's Fisheries Agency says is its largest-ever scientific whale hunt.

The group's hulking black-and-red steel vessel has been docked in the southern city of Melbourne for weeks as it prepares for this year's expedition, dubbed Operation Migaloo after a rare albino humpback that is tracked by whale watchers and local media as it migrates up the Australian coast each year.

Once named for the Canadian anti-whaling campaigner and Greenpeace co-founder, Robert Hunter, Sea Shepherd joined with Irwin's widow, Terri, today to re-dub the vessel Steve Irwin.

"Whales have always been in Steve's heart, and in 2006 he was investigating the possibility of joining the Sea Shepherd on part of its journey to defend these beautiful animals," Terri Irwin said in a statement.

Sea Shepherd said Irwin, who was killed in September last year in freak stingray attack, shared the group's passion for saving whales, and would have been "extremely honored to be acknowledged in this way."

The ship was due to depart Melbourne later today.

Sea Shepherd has come under heavy criticism in recent years for engaging in violent tussles with the Japanese whaling fleet in the normally tranquil waters of the Antarctic.

In February, Sea Shepherd clashed with a Japanese vessel, leaving the Robert Hunter with a 1-meter gash in its stern, during a violent confrontation that both sides blamed on the other party.

Japanese officials said the activists threw ropes and nets into the water to entangle the Japanese ship's propeller and prevent it from maneuvering, and threw smoke canisters and garbage onto the deck.

During the clash, two Sea Shepherd crew members went missing for several hours in a small inflatable boat but were later found safe.

The confrontation drew protests from Japan, and even sparked strong rebukes from the strongly anti-whaling governments of Australia and New Zealand. 

(Shanghai Daily via Agencies December 5, 2007)


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