"Sea Shepherd Says Drones Find, Photograph Japan's Whaling Fleet"

"Hardline whaling opponents attempting to stop Japan's annual whale hunt in the Antarctic said Sunday they had intercepted and photographed its whaling fleet using pilotless drone aircraft.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it located the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru off Australia's western coast Saturday using the drones, the first time this season it has made contact with the whalers.

However, other Japanese ships shielded the vessel "to allow it to escape," Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

"We caught them due west of Perth," founder Paul Watson told Reuters by satellite phone from the ship Steve Irwin. "For the next few days we will be chasing them. We are heading south."

The two drones are equipped with cameras and detection equipment and allow Sea Shepherd to monitor the whaling fleet from a distance, he said."

Chris McCall reports for Reuters December 28, 2011.

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