Following the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's successful hounding last season of the Japanese whaling fleet, there was an air of optimism that the country would finally abandon its controversial "scientific research."

"[Sea Shepherd captain] Paul Watson has always said to us, 'I'm probably the only reality star that's trying to put himself out of the business in TV," Jason Carey, series executive producer for "Whale Wars" said, adding that if Japan ceases whaling, "then that's exactly what he would do. I don't think we'd have a series next year."

As MNN reported last week, that optimism went out the door after Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano announced his country's intent to return to the Southern Ocean. "Japan will conduct the research whaling while strengthening measures against acts of sabotage, including dispatching Fisheries Agency escort ships," he said.

Naturally, Japan is putting pride before profits, having been internationally embarrassed last year after ending its hunt early due to the Sea Shepherd's successful harassment. Capt. Paul Watson says the organization will be ready to interfere and condemned the Japanese government for choosing to proceed with the cruel action in the wake of the country's recent natural disaster.

“Japan’s confirmation that they will resume their whaling program is an insult to all of the anti-whaling nations that so generously contributed to the relief of the tsunami and earthquake victims,” he said. “They have accepted foreign aid to help the victims of that tragedy, and are now shifting funds to perpetuate this illegal and obscene massacre of defenseless whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It now seems they are simply obsessed with killing whales not for need or for profit, but because they believe they have the right to do and kill what they wish in an established international whale sanctuary, just for the sake of defending their misplaced ‘honor.’ It’s a disgrace and a smack in the face to everyone who stepped forward to help in their time of need.”

According to reports, Japan's Fisheries Ministry has requested more than $14 million for this year's hunt — a remarkable 54 percent bump from last year's budget. An escort ship will apparently also accompany the fleet in an effort to stave off any interference from activists.

The U.S. government Thursday responded to Japan's move by decrying the action and pleading for restraint from both sides.

“We are very concerned about Japan continuing its whaling program in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary,” said Monica Medina, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and principal deputy under secretary of commerce for NOAA. “These catches will only increase the growing friction within the IWC over how to deal with the large number of whales that continue to be killed while a moratorium remains in place. There is no reason to kill these creatures in order to learn about them. All the necessary science that we need for the management of whales can be achieved using non-lethal techniques.”

“The safety of vessels and life at sea is the highest priority for the United States.” she added. “I ask all parties to respect the commission’s wishes and immediately refrain from any acts at sea that risk human life or safety. These dangerous confrontations in the Southern Ocean must stop before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed.”

On that last part, Watson said that his team of more than 100 volunteers is fully committed to putting themselves in harm's way for this cause.

“They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening once again,” said Watson. “Are the Japanese people ready to take human lives in defense of this horrifically cruel and illegal slaughter of endangered and protected species of whales? Do we have to die to appease Japanese honor? If so, my answer to the Japanese government is “hoka hey” (Lakota for ‘it’s a good day to die’), and we will undertake whatever risks to our lives will be required to stop this invasion of arrogant greed into what is an established sanctuary for the whales.”

You can expect this years "Whale Wars" to kick off near the end of November. While there's been no official announcement, you can also bet on a "Whale Wars" Season 5 appearing on Animal Planet sometime in June 2012. For more information on Sea Shepherd's campaigns, visit the official site here.

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