Australia 'hopeful' of Japan whaling ruling this year

Australia is hopeful of a final judgement in its international court case against Japan's whaling programme by the end of this year, before the next harpoon season, a senior official said Tuesday.

Donna Petrochenko, Australia's principal representative to the International Whaling Commission, said she was "very positive" about the legal challenge due to start in the International Court of Justice on June 26.

"We're hoping for a judgement by the end of the calendar year," Petrochenko told a Senate hearing.

Asked whether that would mean a ruling before Japan's hunt, conducted under a "scientific research" loophole in the international moratorium on whaling, could resume in December in the Southern Ocean she said: "That's our hope."

According to the latest figures reported to the Senate Tuesday, Australia has already spent almost Aus$20.5 million (US$19.8 million) on its international court case against Japan.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will represent Australia when the matter finally comes to a hearing in June, more than three years after the suit was first filed in The Hague.

Australia will allege that Japan's continued pursuit of its large-scale whaling programme puts it in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve marine mammals and their environment.

Japan's annual whale hunt has long drawn worldwide criticism but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is a culinary tradition.

A defiant Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi vowed in February that Japan would never stop hunting whales, saying it was a "long tradition and culture" in his country.