By Sam Downing
An anti-whaling group says it has filmed a Japanese whale-poaching fleet on the hunt in protected waters in the Southern Ocean.
Graphic footage shows three dead Minke whales on the deck of the Japanese factory ship the Nisshin Maru, according to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
A fourth whale, also believed to be a Minke, was also filmed being "butchered" on the deck and surrounded by blood.
Sea Shepherd says its helicopters first spotted the Nisshin Maru, one of five ships in the Japanese fleet, in New Zealand's sovereign waters in the Antarctic, which are inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
A sign on the Nisshin Maru's deck identifies it as belonging to a whale research group, a claim that Sea Shepherd rejects.
"When 'science' requires you to grotesquely bloat up the bodies of protected whales, stroll across a deck smeared with their blood, hauling their body parts with hooks and chains, and discarding their remains over the side, then that 'science' has no place in the 21st century," said Sid Chakravarty, captain of the Sea Shepherd ship The Steve Irwin.
Sea Shepherd says its fleet, comprising The Steve Irwin, The Bob Barker and The Sam Simon, will pursue the Japanese ships and disrupt their "illegal hunt".
The IUCN Red List, a register of threatened species, lists the Antarctic Minke whale as "data deficient", requiring more information to assess its risk of extinction.
In June, the Australia and New Zealand's governments challenged the legality of Japan's whale hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary at the International Court of Justice. A judgment is yet to be delivered. Video.