By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney
Japan claims it is hunting whales for research purposes
New Zealand and Australia are joining forces to carry out research on whales using non-lethal methods, in an attempt to challenge Japan's hunting programme.
Eighteen scientists will set sail for Antarctica next month to study minke, humpback and blue whale populations.
They will also be assessing the impact of climate change on the whales.
The scientists hope their research will help to disprove Japan's claims that whales have to be killed if they are to be properly studied.
The six-week voyage will start in Wellington in early February.
Researchers will employ a range of non-lethal techniques to try to unlock some of the secrets of these giant marine mammals.
They will use air rifles fitted with darts to collect blubber and skin for DNA testing, as well attaching satellite tags to monitor the whales.
Samples of dung will also be gathered and many photographs will be taken, while acoustic instruments will record the animals' distinctive calls.
Nick Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division, who is leading the expedition, believes it will show that Japan's arguments for whale hunting are misguided.
"Anyone can always come up with a project that you have to kill an animal to measure something," he said.
"But the important question is whether or not you need that information - and our view very strongly is that all of that type of information that is relevant to the conservation and management of whales can be gathered using new and very powerful non-lethal tools."
Japan says there are genuine scientific reasons why it kills hundreds of whales each year in Antarctic waters, where its fleet is currently operating.
Critics, including the Australian and New Zealand governments, insist that such arguments are simply a cover for the sale and consumption of whale meat, which is banned under an international moratorium on commercial hunting.