Australia and New Zealand have condemned Japan?s decision to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The annual hunt was curtailed last year because of clashes between whalers and conservationists. The Japanese say there are genuine scientific reasons for hunting whales, a position dismissed as ludicrous by officials in Canberra and Wellington.
"We say to Japan they do not need to do this. There is no justification for continued whaling," said Australian Agriculture Minister Tony Burke, who is urging Tokyo not to send its hunters to the Antarctic. "Australia unequivocally condemns commercial whaling. We don't accept that this is scientific, it should not go ahead.?
Canberra, which has close economic and diplomatic ties with Japan, likely won't risk damaging the relationship with an all-out diplomatic conflict. Officials have, however, made initial legal submissions to the International Court of Justice to try to stop what it calls "unnecessary slaughter." While senior officials have cautioned that legal action will move slowly, some analysts believe the best chance opponents of the annual hunt have is to win over the Japanese public.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully has said Japan is isolating itself from the rest of the world with its decision to resume whaling.
A robust Japanese lobby
Although whale consumption has been declining in Japan for years, the country?s pro-whaling lobby still retains significant political influence through nationalistic and historic arguments supporting the annual hunt.
Meanwhile, conservationists like Paul Watson** are preparing for another round of potentially dangerous confrontation with whalers. He says volunteers with his anti-whaling Sea Shepherd organization are prepared to risk their lives protecting whales. The group successfully forced the Japanese fleet to curtail activities last year, but this time around the whaling vessels will be better protected.
"We are going to find them. We are going to block their slipway and we will see what they are going to do," said Watson, who expects battles in the Southern Ocean to intensify. "Our tactics are always the same, which is that we are not going to hurt anybody, but we are certainly going to take the risks that are necessary to block them. That is the key to the whole thing; blocking their operation. If they cannot load whales, they cannot kill them."
Commercial whaling has been outlawed for 25 years, but Japan is allowed to catch about 1,000 whales each year in what Tokyo insists is a scientific research program.
Critics say it is commercial whaling in all but name.
The Japanese fleet sails to the Southern Ocean in the autumn each year, returning the following Spring.
**Mr. Watson's name was previously posted as Wilson in our text. VOA regrets the error.