Despite a ruling earlier this year by the International Court of Justice that found Japan's whaling program in the Antarctic to be "illegal," officials there are once again attempting to resume hunting under a "scientific research" smokescreen. News of Japan's plans comes as the International Whaling Commission is having its first general session in more than two years, with representatives from 68 of the 88 signatories gathering for the four-day event. 

For Australia and New Zealand, the ruling by the ICJ is an opportunity for the commission to adopt a stronger stance against Japan's ambitions and to further enforce the international laws in place against commercial whaling.

"The words of the court, the highest court in the world, speak for themselves," Australian Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt told the IWC meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, on Monday. "We need to just ensure that the commission, as the responsible international organization, considers the guidance of the court, and incorporates its learned judgment into the practices of the commission."

In a bid to limit Japan's ability to issue itself scientific research permits, New Zealand proposed a resolution that would arrest the practice unless first reviewed by the full IWC commission. Since non-lethal research is backed by a majority of the member nations, it's assumed that such a process would stymie Japan's eagerness to resume hunting in the Antarctic. 

According to Japan, the new research program will reduce the amount and type of whales hunted. 

"The content of our new research program will not be so different from our past research activities, which were highly regarded by scientists," said Hideki Moronuki, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation. "The main purpose was always to achieve sustainable use of whale resources."

Should efforts by the IWC member nations to curb Japan's future hunts in the Antarctic fail, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has pledged to do their part to block the whaling fleet from achieving its quota.

Said the conservation org in April: "Our commitment to the whales is stronger, bigger and firmer today than it was ever before and should the poachers return again, they will be met by the full force of Sea Shepherd.” 

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Japan seeks to restart 'scientific whaling' program amidst international backlash
Australia and New Zealand are leading efforts to enforce an earlier court ruling that found Japan's whaling program to be more commercial than scientific.