TOKYO (Reuters) - A hardline anti-whaling group on Wednesday set its sights on a "successful" season of protesting against Japan's hunt in Antarctic waters, encouraged by signs that this year's whale hunt could be shorter than in the past.
Regular attempts by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to block hunts have caused irritation in Japan, where the government says whaling is an important cultural tradition.
Scott West, Sea Shepherd's director for investigations, said the group had played a key role in reducing the number of whales hunted by Japan in recent years, and the upcoming season would be no exception.
He was encouraged that the Japanese fleet's mother ship Nisshin Maru was still spotted in port two days ago. Last year, the ship left on November 19 for a trip lasting about five months.
"We do anticipate this being an even more successful season," West told a news conference.
"More likely the ships will head down but it will be a much shorter season and we'll be there to intercept and interdict and prevent the killing of whales."
Commercial whaling was banned under a 1968 moratorium, but Japan still hunts whales for what it says are research purposes. The meat mostly ends up on dinner tables.
Last season, Japan killed 506 minke whales, well below its planned catch of around 850.It caught one fin whale compared with a target of 10.
West declined to give details about the group's plans for the coming months, but clashes between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd activists have escalated in recent years.
In July, a Sea Shepherd activist was given a two-year suspended jail term by a Japanese court for boarding a whaling ship, while the group's ship Ady Gil sank in January after a collision with a Japanese whaling ship.
Ady Gil will be replaced this season by the new ship "Godzilla," named after the Japanese fictional monster that combines the Japanese words for "gorilla" and "whale."
"We choose our tactics and our methods in a way to be effective, but without causing injury," West said.
"We're more than happy to destroy equipment but we won't cause harm."
Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Daniel Magnowski