Air and sea surveillance of Japan's whaling fleet will begin in the next few weeks in a bid by the Australian Government to stop Tokyo's whaling program. The Rudd Government is also stepping up the diplomatic pressure on Japan.
Its critics say Japan is planning the world's largest single whaling operation. The Australian Government's preparing its own diplomatic and legal counter-attack.
PETER GARRETT, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Slaughtering whales is not scientific. It's cruel, it's barbaric, and it's unnecessary.
It will gather evidence to use against Japan. An Australian Antarctic Division aircraft will film the whaling fleet from the air, and, as expected, a Customs ship - the 'Oceanic Viking' - will leave for the Southern Ocean in the next few days to shadow the Japanese. The ship will carry arms, but the weapons will be stored below decks.
STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: It will be a surveillance-only activity. There'll be no effort or attempt or desire to effect an enforcement or a boarding action.
In the next few days, Australia and a number of undisclosed nations will issue a formal diplomatic protest. A special envoy will also be appointed to directly lobby Tokyo. The Rudd Government is also considering international legal action.
STEPHEN SMITH: This is no minor disagreement - there are strong views firmly held on both sides, and it's a strong view from which the Australian Government will not resile.
He doesn't believe it will damage bilateral relations. But the Opposition wants the Government to go much further. It says the Prime Minister must directly intervene to increase the diplomatic pressure on Japan.
GREG HUNT, SHADOW FOREIGN MINISTER: Mr Rudd must pick up the phone and call the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Fukoda, immediately and make it clear, person to person, that whaling is utterly unacceptable.
Greenpeace's ship 'Esperanza' is on the way to the Southern Ocean to try to disrupt the whaling. The Sea Shepherd organisation is also sending a ship. The Foreign Minister's worried there may be confrontations - and possibly fatalities - in the icy waters.
STEPHEN SMITH: I urge all parties to exercise restraint.
Greenpeace is not backing down.
STEVE SHALLHORN, GREENPEACE: We would call it confrontative, and that's what Greenpeace does - we go down there to save the lives of individual whales.
He says if Japan wants to avoid a confrontation, it should stop whaling.