Season Four of "Whale Wars" kicks off tonight in what many are hoping is the final battle in the Southern Ocean between the Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling fleet. 

The hit Animal Planet series follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its efforts to stymie the Japanese from harvesting whales in the 50-million square kilometer Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Previous seasons have ended with both sides resolving to continue their operations the following year  - but at the end of the 2011 campaign, the result was something entirely different: victory for the Sea Shepherd

"When the Japanese fleet ended their operation a month and a half early this year I felt that there was a 75 per cent chance they would not be returning," Watson said during an interview in April. "They know we can find them and they know that once we find them we can shut down their operations. They quit the field because they could not kill any whales and they could not shake us off their tail."

In light of the devastating earthquake, the 60-year-old captain believes that there's now a 99% that the Japanese will not return next year. 

"[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," series executive Jason Carey told the NY Post, adding that if whaling really does end "then that's exactly what he would do. I don't think we'd have a series next year."

Of course, Carey made those comments back in February and a network like Animal Planet isn't likely to let a hit series ride off into the sunset flying a banner of mission accomplished. Whaling in the Southern Ocean is but one (albeit the most popular) campaign that the SSCS engage in annually. Just this past week, the newly repainted fleet set off to battle Bluefin tuna poachers off the war-torn coast of Libya. 

“I am constantly asked if this is a dangerous operation,” Watson said in a release. “Of course it’s a dangerous mission, that’s why were the only group going into this warzone. We go where no one else dares to go and we do what no one else has the guts to do – uphold international conservation law.”

Sounds like the perfect reality TV setup, doesn't it? But first, it appears that Animal Planet will spotlight the group's campaign against the annual pilot whale hunt in the Faeroe Islands. Earlier this week, Watson posted the news on his Facebook page announcing a new "Whale Wars series" centered on the region  - though it's unclear whether the new focus would be a spinoff or a continuation of the current show. 

So have faith "Whale Wars" fans - tonight's premiere is not likely to be the last. You can catch all the action tonight at 9PM E/T on Animal Planet. 

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Is tonight's 'Whale Wars' premiere the last?
Captain Paul Watson and his intrepid crew go to battle once more against the Japanese whaling fleet - but could their victory equal the end of the series?