Japan's controversial call to resume whaling in the Antarctic is illegal and must be challenged by New Zealand and Australian Governments, welfare groups say.
Japan's four-strong whaling fleet sets sail for the south today to kill 333 minke whales as part of its revised 'scientific research' programme.
Tokyo had cancelled the bulk of its whaling for the 2014-15 season following a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March 2014 that found its original Antarctic whaling programme was illegal.
However, late last week it issued a revised plan that proposes cutting annual minke whale catches by two-thirds to 333, a target the Japanese Fisheries Agency says is scientifically reasonable, according to a document filed with the commission.
The decision has been met with condemnation by both the New Zealand and Australian Government, with ministers on both sides of the Tasman hinting at a hard-hitting legal response.
Such a move would be justified, according to a panel of international legal experts whose review found Japan's revised programme breaks international law.
The findings, released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), show the Australasian governments would likely be successful if they repeated last year's action and took Japan to the ICJ.
The panel reviewed Japan's new whaling programme, which will slaughter nearly 4000 minke whales over the next 12 years in an expanded Antarctic killing zone.
"The panel came to the conclusion that legally, in its current format, the revised programme doesn't meet the test set by the ICJ," said panelist and senior law lecturer Joanna Mossop, of Victoria University, Wellington.
Based on this finding, the AMCS's Darren Kindleysides pushed for the Key and Turnbull Governments to take action.
"We urge Australia, New Zealand and other governments to collectively do all they can diplomatically to persuade Japan to call off this hunt, and to actively consider options for further legal action against Antarctic whaling," he said.