Key Points:

Officials are looking into claims there is a new legal avenue that could be used to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Australian academic Professor Don Rothwell and other experts, convened by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, released a report yesterday suggesting Australia use the Antarctic Treaty System to crack down on whaling. The treaty says most activities need environmental approval.

Professor Rothwell said Japan did not get these approvals for its whaling, but it might need to.

A Government spokesman said it had no advice about whether such a legal challenge was possible or not. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were considering the issue and they would advise Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully later.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which each year confronts the Japanese whaling crew in the Southern Ocean, said it would drop its tactics if Australia or New Zealand agreed to take legal action.

Before the 2007 federal election, the Australian Labor Party promised to take Japan to the International Court of Justice to stop whaling. But the Government is first trying diplomacy, it said.

- NZPA