The Australian government has announced that it will send a plane to monitor Japan’s whaling efforts in the Southern Ocean. Previously, Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt had promised to send boats to keep tabs on the Japanese whaling vessels, but such pledges never manifested.

Japan’s annual whale hunts in the Antarctic last from January to March. Meanwhile, environmental activist group Sea Shepherd has sent three boats to disrupt Japanese whaling efforts.

Hunt is quoted by BBC News:

The purpose of the customs mission will be to record the incidents on the high seas. It will be to ensure there is a presence to make sure there is no conflict between the parties.

Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin colliding with Japanese whaling boat Yushin Maru. Pic: guano (Flickr CC)

Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin colliding with Japanese whaling boat Yushin Maru. Pic: guano (Flickr CC)

Australia’s decision to send a plane instead of boats has been called a “sham” by Sea Shepherd – a hands-off approach as opposed to the activist group’s direct methods of hindering whaling.

Sea Shepherd Australia’s chairman Bob Brown is quoted by AFP/fa:

They’ll fly over and look from a great height. What are they going to do if something’s going wrong down there? Where are they going to send a vessel from? Because those planes are not going to be able to intervene. It’s a sham operation, this plane.

Opposition parties in Australia, such as the Greens, have also criticized the Liberal Party-led government’s decision to send a send a plane instead of a customs boat. A customs vessel would be required by Australian law to force any Japanese ship to leave if observed engaging in illegal whaling, while a plane would lack the necessary tools to do so. Furthermore, the Australian government already has a boat specifically equipped for the purpose.

Japan ostensibly practices whaling as scientific research and not for the sale and consumption of whale meat, though this is generally seen as a dishonest excuse in order to maintain the country’s traditional trade in whale meat.