SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia has "shocking" photographic evidence to back an international legal bid to stop Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters, the government said Thursday.
One picture reportedly showing a mother whale and her calf being dragged aboard a Japanese whaler after being harpooned was described as sickening by Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
"I guess when I saw the photos I just felt a bit of a sick feeling, as well as a sense of sadness," said Garrett, a former rock star with protest group Midnight Oil.
"It's very disappointing. It's distressing when you think that it can take up to 15 minutes after a harpoon actually hits a whale for the whale to die.
"It's even sadder when you consider there's a calf involved."
A gaping wound visible on the minke whale calf's side as it is hauled up a blood-soaked slipway into the boat was reportedly caused by an explosive-packed harpoon.
The picture was one of many taken from an Australian customs vessel tracking the whalers to build up evidence against the kill, and Customs Minister Bob Debus said the pile of "shocking images" would support legal action to stop the annual slaughter.
"They will help us to back up the Australian government's argument in an international court case, the details of which are still to be worked out, to suggest that whaling should be stopped," Debus told reporters.
Australia has taken a leading role in opposing Japan's use of a loophole in an international moratorium on whaling to kill the giants of the oceans in the name of research. The meat is then sold in supermarkets and restaurants.
"To claim that this is in any way scientific is to continue the charade that surrounded this issue from day one," said Garrett.
"It is explicitly clear from these images that this is the indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way," he said.
But Japan's whaling body accused Australia of spreading "emotional propaganda" which could damage relations and said the whales were not a mother and calf.
"The government of Australia's photographs and the media reports have created dangerous emotional propaganda that could cause serious damage to the relationship between our two countries," said Minoru Morimoto, director general of the government-supported Institute of Cetacean Research.
"It is important the Australian public is not misled into believing false information," he said.
Japan resumed its annual whale hunt last week after it was disrupted in mid-January by anti-whaling protests, including the boarding of one of its ships by two activists from the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
But low fuel forced boats from Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace to return to port to refuel and only the customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, is now tracking the whalers, who have a target of around 1,000 whales this southern summer.
The government is considering using its evidence in one of two international legal forums -- the International Court of Justice in The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Japan's whaling programme breaches several international conventions and legal action could be quickly set in motion.
"The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea could be called upon to issue an injunction to stop the Japanese whalers... in as little as 14 days," legal expert Tim Stephens said in a statement issued by IFAW.
Greenpeace Australia-Pacific chief Steve Shallhorn said the pictures showed the world that the Japanese fleet was killing whales in a globally recognised sanctuary and did not care if they were mothers or infants.
"Now that the Australian government has its own evidence of the whale hunt, we expect this to spur them to action at the International Whaling Commission and beyond," Shallhorn said.
The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was proclaimed by the International Whaling Commission in 1994.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »