Three Sea Shepherd ships have left New Zealand for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary ready to do battle in the activist group's ninth and biggest Antarctic summer campaign against Japanese whaling.
The group's fourth vessel, the Sam Simon - named after its benefactor, The Simpsons' co-creator - will leave Hobart on Wednesday or Thursday, says Sea Shepherd's Australian director Jeff Hansen.
Mr Hansen, who with former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has replaced Paul Watson to direct the Antarctic campaign, told NZ Newswire the Steve Irwin, Brigitte Bardot and Bob Barker are steaming to the whale sanctuary and should arrive around January 21 or 22.
The Sam Simon will join them there, ahead of the whaling fleet whose departure from Japan has been delayed until late December because of problems with its factory vessel, Mr Hansen says.
"We're planning to be there before they get there so no whales get killed this season," he said.
He would not say what tactics Sea Shepherd planned to use to stop the whale slaughter.
Mr Watson, the Canadian-born founder of Sea Shepherd, is on the Steve Irwin but not as its captain after he announced on Tuesday he was resigning key positions in the organisation because of legal action against him.
A United States court injunction in December, naming Mr Watson, ordered the protesters to stay at least 450 metres from the Japanese fleet.
He is also the subject of two Interpol "red notices", seeking to extradite him to Costa Rica and Japan to face trial for his actions in previous marine campaigns.
He avoided possible arrest in New Zealand on Saturday, when Customs did standard checks on the Steve Irwin in Timaru, by earlier switching to the Brigitte Bardot after it had cleared Customs in Wellington.
Mr Hansen said he and Dr Brown would co-ordinate the Antarctic campaign - which has four ships, a helicopter, aerial drones and more than 100 crew - from Australia.