The craft will collect photographic and video evidence that will be used to decide if Australia will launch legal action to try to stop Japan's whaling program, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.
Smith also said Australia will lead a group of anti-whaling nations lodging a formal protest with the Japanese government within the next few days, objecting to Japan's plans to harvest more than a thousand whales, including 50 humpbacks, in its largest-ever scientific whale hunt.
"We are dealing here with the slaughter of whales, not scientific research," Smith told a news conference. "That is our start point and our end point."
An Airbus A-319 used by Australia's scientific division in Antarctica will conduct surveillance flights over the Japanese fleet, which is due in its target area soon.
Australia will also send a ship operated by its customs department to the area to collect potential evidence for international legal action against Japan.
Smith said Canberra was taking advice on whether it could launch legal action against Japanese whaling in a range of international forums, including the International Court of Justice, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Each year Japan defies a ban on killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuarya massive feeding ground in the Antarctic Ocean that the International Whaling Commission has declared off-limits for commercial whaling. Japan says its whaling program is exempt because it is for scientific purposes.
Critics call the Japanese program a sham, noting the meat turns up for sale for human consumption.
Smith said he did not expect the tough new stance on whaling to create diplomatic problems between the Japanese government and the new government of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was elected in November.
Smith declined to identify the other nations involved in the official protest, saying it was up to them to identify themselves.
Australia's announcement came as anti-whaling protesters pledging to put themselves between Japanese harpoon guns and their whale prey left from New Zealand to confront the whalers.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza left the port of Auckland for Antarctic waters determined to find the Japanese whaling fleet and "protect the whales, not attack the whalers," the group's Southern Oceans whale campaigner Karli Thomas said.
Already the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sailed to the Antarctic Ocean vowing to use whatever means necessary to block Japan from harvesting whales.
"We'll be taking nonviolent direct action to stop their hunt ... putting ourselves, our inflatable boats, in between the harpoonists and the whales to stop them getting a clear shot," Thomas told The Associated Press.
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