New Zealand on Wednesday condemned a Japanese plan to resume whaling in Antarctica, labeling it an "entirely disrespectful" move that was based on "dubious" science.
Wellington said Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano's confirmation Tuesday that whaling would continue meant Tokyo was isolating itself from the international community.
"Japan's decision is increasingly out of step with international opinion," Foreign Minister Murray McCully said.
"It is also entirely disrespectful of the strong concerns expressed by Australian and New Zealand people for whom the Southern Ocean is our neighbourhood."
McCully also said he was concerned at Kano's assertion that Japan would boost security for its whaling fleet to guard against harassment by environmental protesters.
He also expressed alarm at recent statements from environmental activist group Sea Shepherd — which forced Japan to curtail its whaling hunt earlier this year — suggesting its vessels could use life-threatening tactics to stop whalers.
"The New Zealand government has consistently urged all parties to act responsibly during the whaling season, and to avoid actions that may put their lives, or the lives of others, at risk," McCully said.
Japan uses a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling to conduct what it describes as "scientific research", in Antarctic waters, setting quotas allowing about 1,000 whales to be harpooned annually.
It cut short its 2010-11 whale hunt for the first time in February, after taking only a fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.
The US-based group employs tactics such as hurling paint and stink bombs at whaling ships, snaring their propellers and positioning its own boats between harpoon ships and whales.
McCully said Japan's whaling programme "serves no useful purpose and deserves to be consigned to history."
"The program's so-called 'scientific' purpose is highly dubious," he said.
"There is not much appetite for whale meat on the Japanese market. The whaling fleet is getting old and requires increasing amounts of government cash to keep it afloat."
He said New Zealand, which along with Australia is the strongest international critic of Japanese whaling, had worked hard to find a long-term solution to the issue.
But in a sign of Wellington's frustration, he said New Zealand may scrap diplomatic efforts to work with Japan on whaling, which has long been an irritant in relations between the two countries.
"It is a sad reality but Japan?s decision makes it much harder for the diplomatic process to continue," he said.