SYDNEY -- Japan's whaling fleet is once more on the run in Antarctic waters after being tracked down by ship-borne environmental activists, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said Sunday.
The group's ship the "Steve Irwin" found the whalers after searching through fog and rough weather for nearly a week after a break to refuel in the southern Australian port of Hobart, Captain Paul Watson said.
"We are seven miles from the fleet and approaching. We see the Nisshin Maru and two harpoon vessels the Yushin Maru 1 and the Yushin Maru 2," Watson said on the group's website.
"The Steve Irwin is now in close pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet."
This is the fifth year Sea Shepherd activists have trailed the whalers and attempted to impede their hunt, prompting Japanese authorities to accuse them of "eco-terrorism".
An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986 but Japan kills hundreds each year in the name of research, while making no secret of the fact that the meat ends up on dinner tables.
"When we found them this morning it looked like they were in the process of a whaling operation -- the vessels were all stopped altogether," Watson told Australia's national AAP news agency.
"As long as we're chasing them they're not going to kill whales," he said. "Every day we can keep them from whaling and on the run is a victory for us."
Watson last month offered to abandon Sea Shepherd's aggressive tactics -- which have in the past included boarding the whalers -- if Australia agreed to take legal action against the hunt.
The Australian government strongly opposes Japan's annual kill of up to 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean and has said it is considering taking international legal action against Tokyo to bring it to an end.