Australia says it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice to argue that its annual Antarctic whale kill violates international obligations, in a major escalation of the Australian campaign against the hunt.
The decision to take legal action against Australia's important trading partner underlines the government's "commitment to bring to end Japan's program of so-called scientific whaling" in the southern seas, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement.
Japan gets around an international ban on commercial whaling by arguing that it harpoons hundreds of whales each year for scientific research.
The Australian government has said the hunt is in breach of international obligations, but has declined to release any details of how it will argue its case before the court in The Hague.
Japan's Foreign Ministry said it was regrettable that Australia was bringing the issue before the court while negotiations continue within the International Whaling Commission on disputes over whale hunts.
"We will continue to explain that the scientific whaling that we are conducting is lawful in accordance with Article 8 of the international convention for the regulation of whaling," said ministry Deputy Press Secretary Hidenobu Sobashima. "If it goes to the court, we are prepared to explain that."
Sobashima said the issue "shouldn't jeopardize the overall good relations between Japan and Australia."
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith echoed that sentiment, saying the two countries have agreed to treat the matter as "an independent legal arbitration of a disagreement between friends."