Whalers, protesters ready for next round off Antarctica

Japanese whalers and the activists who have vowed to stop them ended the first round in their annual contest in isolated Antarctic waters, with each side unbowed and preparing for the next skirmish. An Australian customs ship conducting surveillance of Japan's controversial hunt intervened at Tokyo's request on Friday and picked up two Sea Shepherd Conservation Society activists who leaped aboard a harpoon ship on Tuesday, and took them back to the group's vessel. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said he and his volunteer crew aboard the ship Steve Irwin would immediately resume their campaign of harassment to stop the whalers. Their usual tactics include throwing bottles of greasy, stinking fluid onto the decks of the whaling ships and riding rubber boats into the space between harpoonists and their prey. Japan said it was preparing to resume its hunt within days, which this season aims to kill almost 1,000 minke and fin whales for what it says are scientific purposes. Opponents say the scientific program is a front for commercial whale killing that is banned by an international moratorium.