AMERICAN actor Daryl Hannah is setting sail with a conservation group on its annual voyage to disrupt Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters.
Best known for her role as a mermaid in the 1984 film Splash, Ms Hannah is part of the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's annual campaign to find, track and impede the whaling ships in the Southern Ocean.
The film star joined the Steve Irwin, which was yesterday due to depart from the eastern Australian city of Brisbane, for the first week of the voyage.
Ms Hannah, who has also starred in films such as Blade Runner and Kill Bill, said more needed to be done to stop the Japanese from killing endangered species in the waters off Antarctica.
She said: "It is surprising and shocking to me that governments are not doing this work – that it is up to individuals and non-government organisations to uphold international law and protect endangered species."
The Steve Irwin, named after the Australian crocodile hunter who died in 2006 from a stingray barb, is the only vessel to attempt to follow the Japanese whalers on their whale hunt this year.
Greenpeace, which has sent ships to the Southern Ocean nine times in the past two decades to track the hunt, will not send a vessel this year, instead concentrating on its campaign within Japan to stop the slaughter.
The Australian government, which last year sent a customs ship to collect data on the killings that Japan says are for scientific purposes, will not send a boat either.
Monitoring will be left to New Zealand, which will send air force planes to oversee the whaling fleet in Antarctic waters.
Ms Hannah added that she believed the whaling industry could be shut down if activists pooled their resources to work together and governments enforced anti-whaling laws.
She said: "These guys (the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society] are the only guys out there actually fighting against illegal hunting. If Greenpeace would join forces with Sea Shepherd they would shut down the whaling industry right away.
"If they were really serious and held their convictions they could accomplish this."
However, Greenpeace, which has run an office in Japan for nearly 20 years, insists that political lobbying is more likely to win the day than direct action.
The Greenpeace spokesman, Willie Mackenzie, told The Scotsman: "Our campaign exposing the work of the whaling industry has secured vast public support, and we are also getting the people who fund the expeditions to question it.
"It is disappointing that Daryl Hannah has chosen to be negative about Greenpeace. If she wants to know more about what we do she is welcome to come and meet our guys and find out what they do on the ground."
Ms Hannah will mark her 48th birthday on board the Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel.
She had originally planned to stay for the entire four-month campaign, but filming commitments mean she will now only be available for the first week. She hopes to rejoin the campaign towards the end.
JAPANESE whalers plan to catch up to 935 minke and 50 fin whales in the weeks ahead. Japan, which aims to kill 1,000 whales a year using a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants, managed to make only about half its quota last season because of interference from activists.
Sea Shepherd's campaign, Operation Musashi, is the society's fifth voyage to derail the annual Japanese whale hunt in Antarctic waters.
Sea Shepherd has come under criticism from whalers and some conservation groups – including Greenpeace – over its threat to ram vessels to save whales.
Last summer, Sea Shepherd activists Benjamin Potts, an Australian, and Giles Lane, a Briton, were held captive for three days after they boarded a Japanese whaling vessel from the Steve Irwin. The incident heightened diplomatic tensions between Australia and Japan over the whale hunt.
In February last year, a Sea Shepherd vessel twice collided with a Japanese whaling vessel near a pod of whales.
The group's activists, who have also been dubbed "eco-terrorists", dumped a foul-smelling acid on another whaling boat, slightly injuring two crew members. Japanese police are still investigating.
However, the group claimed victory when the fleet could only return to Japan with 551 minke whales, just over half of the planned catch.