Dead whale caught in Australian waters on board Japanese whaler

"The fact that the Japanese crew went to cover up their harpoons and the dead minke whale on deck just shows that they know what they're doing is wrong", captain OF the Steve Irwin, Wyanda Lublink, said in a statement.

"They know they are in contempt of the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the Australian Federal Court".

"They're playing a bureaucratic and administrative game, they've been playing it for decades, they've been lying to the world about the reasons for their companies' whaling expeditions into the Southern Ocean and Australia simply needs to muscle up and start defending its territorial waters here", McKim said.

The federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, has criticised Japan following the release of photographs allegedly showing the slaughtering of protected whales inside Australia's Antarctic whale sanctuary.

New Zealand had worked for years to protect whales and engage with Japan to try and change their attitude, he said.

Japan says its whaling program is for scientific purposes.

Japan's giant abattoir ship Nisshin Maru with a minke whale on the deck.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the government was "deeply disappointed" that Japan had chose to return to the Southern Ocean.

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'It is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them'.

The Irwin and the fast new patrol vessel, the Ocean Warrior, left Australia in early December to track down the Japanese whaling fleet of four ships, including the 8145-tonne Nisshin Maru, with a total crew of 185.

But Sea Shepherd managing director Jeff Hansen said the government's response was inadequate.

Mr Hansen demanded the government send a vessel to the Southern Ocean to monitor Japan's whaling fleet, noting a recent poll that indicated support for such a measure.

"If we do lose them, we'll find them again", she said.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales, arguing the hunts are for scientific research. Japan insists that since then it has only been whaling for "scientific research", but the activists doubt that slaughtering more than 8,000 minke whales in the past three decades for that objective was necessary.

A joint statement by the two leaders made no public mention of Australia's opposition to whaling.

The photographs apparently show the first documented whale catch since the Japanese whaling programme in the Antarctic was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2014.