Photos show Japanese whaling off Antarctica, group says
Australia has sharply criticised Japan after photos emerged allegedly showing it had resumed whaling off Antarctica.
Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd released the images, which it said showed a dead minke whale on a Japanese vessel on Sunday.
It comes two days after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Sydney to bolster defence ties with Australia.
Australia's Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was not necessary to kill whales for study.
"The Australian Government is deeply disappointed that Japan has decided to return to the Southern Ocean this summer to undertake so-called 'scientific' whaling,'" he said on Monday.
"Australia is opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling." Japan's whaling has been ruled illegal by the Australian Federal Court.
A global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place since 1985, with exemptions that allowed Japan to hunt some whales for "scientific research".
But in 2014 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan's scientific Antarctic whaling programme should cease. Tokyo suspended whaling for one season but announced it would soon begin another "scientific" whaling programme, drawing criticism from environmental groups and the Australian and UK governments.
Japan insists it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to justify a return to whaling for commercial purposes. It says it has to kill the mammals and study them in order to carry out its research.
Australian Greens senator Nick McKim said the ICJ had the power to impose "fines or sanctions" on Japan.
Sea Shepherd said the photos showed the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary on Sunday.
The boat's crew "scrambled" to cover the dead whale with a tarpaulin after spotting the anti-whaling group's helicopter, Sea Shepherd said.
Two smaller boats, the Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru #2, also covered their harpoons, the group claimed.
"The fact that the Japanese crew went to cover up their harpoons and the dead minke whale on deck just shows that they know what they're doing is wrong," said Wyanda Lublink, captain of Sea Shepherd ship the MY Steve Irwin.
Sea Shepherd said it was the first minke slaughter to be documented since the ICJ ruling.
Sea Shepherd has been patrolling the Southern Ocean for five weeks.
Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said the Australian government should do more to protect whales.