Disturbing footage of a slaughtered baby minke being hauled up the slipway of a whaler alongside the carcass of its mother will be used against Japan in international legal action being planned by the Australian Government.
The footage of the dead mother and calf, estimated to be less than 12 months old, was released after demands by anti-whaling activists for the publication of incriminating pictures taken by the Australian Customs ship Oceanic Viking in a bid to further fuel international outrage.
Canberra has said it will extend the Oceanic Viking's original 20-day mission to monitor and photograph the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia.
It's published photographs will also be used as evidence in court action launched against whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha by the Humane Society International, following an earlier Federal Court ruling that the company's operations in the Southern Ocean were illegal under Australian law.
"These photographs show the reality of the slaughter of these animals," Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said. "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 - that whaling should be stopped."
Last night the director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, Minoru Morimoto, claimed the two whales photographed were not related.
He said the release of the photographs was part of an "emotional propaganda" campaign.
"They are not a mother and her calf as claimed by the media. It is important the Australian public is not misled into believing false information."
Morimoto said the smaller of the two whales was just over 5m in length, while the larger was just over 8m. They were both female, neither was "lactating", and their difference in size showed only "random sampling" in practice.
"It is necessary to conduct random sampling of the Antarctic minke population to obtain accurate statistical data," he said.
The Labor Government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made the strength of its opposition to whaling clear to Japan, with the dispatch of the Oceanic Viking backed by representations by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Tokyo last week.
"We don't believe that the so-called scientific research is scientific research," he said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.
Japan uses a loophole in the 1986 moratorium to kill whales in both hemispheres for research, with a target of about 1000 in this year's Southern Ocean operations.
The slaughter this year was suspended after the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza split the fleet and pursued its factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, for 14 days, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel Steve Irwin tracked and boarded the whale chaser Yushin Maru No 2.
The detention of the two boarders, Australian Ben Potts and Briton Giles Lane, increased diplomatic tensions between Canberra and Tokyo, which is concerned that Australia may incline away from close ally Japan towards China. Smith said this week that relations with Tokyo would not suffer.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said yesterday that the Government was bringing its full repertory to bear on Japan, including the appointment of a whaling envoy. He said he had been sickened and saddened by the footage but said that similar images in the past had been powerful forces in building up international opposition to whaling.
"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," Garrett told Channel Nine. "It's even sadder when you consider there's a calf involved."
IT'S INTOLERABLE, SAYS MINISTER
Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick said she watched the footage on television last night.
"There's a cruelty aspect here that I find intolerable ... we know it's rubbish that it's for scientific reasons. This is harvesting of whales and it's not humane harvesting either. It's quite revolting."
She would like to meet Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
"I think the timing for me to get over to meet Mr Garrett is really timely ... I really do believe that with two Labour governments now, there's some great synergy for us to be looking at a joint position."
She said she would like to talk to Mr Garret about the possibility of legal action.
"I had a meeting in Auckland [yesterday] with the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium ... and after the meeting my impression would be that we have to work jointly with Australia and other Pacific countries on a strategy to take to the International Whaling Commission this year in Chile."