The Japanese institute behind the country's whaling program has filed a lawsuit in the US against the Sea Shepherd conservation group. The Institute for Cetacean Research, as well as the owner of two of Japan's whaling ships, wants an injunction against Sea Shepherd because the anti-whaling group "puts lives at risk".
Last whaling season Sea Shepherd claimed victory, forcing the whalers to retreat with less than a fifth of their quota.
Japan's whaling fleet is again on its way to the Antarctic, but being bled financially and losing the high-seas battle, the whalers have changed tack.
A spokesman for the Institute for Cetacean Research, Gavin Carter, says the court action is designed to improve safety.
"What the Institute is doing is saying, look, this is just too dangerous," he said.
"Let's take the case to a court and have them set the, if you like, the parameters of the type of action that can be taken.
"Because clearly putting people on the vessel at risk of being injured or even killed, sabotaging the vessels, maybe taking away their ability to navigate in the Antarctic Ocean, is not safe."
Preparing to intercept the whaling fleet in the Antarctic, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson says he finds the legal action amusing.
He argues the whalers have also shown they are prepared to use confrontational tactics in the Southern Ocean.
"I'm not too concerned about it. Sounds like a frivolous lawsuit," he said.
"US courts don't take those very seriously. I mean, it's rather incredible considering they destroyed one of our ships, did not even have to answer on any authority on that.
"They've shot at us, thrown concussion grenades at us, hit us with water cannon, the long-range physical weapons, and they're now claiming that we're a threat to their safety.
"It's just... it's not going to go anywhere."
'Powerless'The Institute argues Sea Shepherd's tactics are also hampering what it calls the scientific achievement of Japan's research whaling program.
Despite Mr Watson's dismissal of the legal action, Mr Carter believes it could tame the high-seas showdown.
"Seattle and Washington state is where Sea Shepherd is based, where Mr Paul Watson is based, so that is why the Seattle court would have jurisdiction," he said.
"The institute is obviously seeking an injunction fairly quickly that would restrain Sea Shepherd from undertaking a violent act, that it's been undertaking, and it will undertake again."
It is not known when the court will make a ruling.
But onboard the Sea Shepherd flagship, Steve Irwin, Mr Watson remains confident
"The US courts have no powers over our vessels. They're not owned by Sea Shepherd USA, so they have no authority over the vessels," he said.
"The US courts, unlike the Japanese courts, require evidence. In the Japanese courts you pretty much can be convicted as soon as you go into the courtroom."
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