Japan said Friday it will complain to Australia after the government released graphic pictures of bloody whaling operations, accusing Canberra of stirring up emotions.
Australian media on Thursday prominently aired the pictures taken by an Australian customs vessel showing bleeding whales being dragged onto a Japanese ship after being harpooned in Antarctic waters.
“We had agreed to handle the issue calmly and avoid damaging friendly relations between the two countries,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi told a news conference.
“However, Australia released pictures of a whaling vessel and made remarks that don’t appear calm,” Wakabayashi said.
“We will express our regret about it and call on them through diplomatic channels to act calmly.”
Japan has said the pictures were misleading and did not show a lactating mother and her calf as asserted in Australia.
Australia has taken a leading role in opposing Japan’s use of a loophole in an international moratorium on whaling to kill the giants of the oceans in the name of research. The meat is then sold in supermarkets and restaurants.
Japan, which will kill up to 1,000 whales on its current expedition, says its whaling is legal and part of its culture and accuses Western countries, led by Australia, of insensitivity.
“We are considering when we should send the message and at what level,” a foreign ministry official added.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said that the pictures gave him a “sick feeling.”
“It is explicitly clear from these images that this is the indiscriminate killing of whales, where you have a whale and its calf killed in this way,” said Garrett, the former frontman of protest rockers Midnight Oil.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s left-leaning government, which took office in December, has ramped up the pressure against Japan’s whaling, which is also harassed by non-governmental activists.
Japan resumed its hunt last week after it was disrupted in mid-January by anti-whaling protests, including the boarding of one of its ships by two activists from the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Amid the tensions, a poll published Friday said that nearly two-thirds of Japanese back whaling, although support is waning among the young, particularly women.
The Asahi Shimbun, which took answers from 2,082 people, said 65 percent of Japanese support continuing the whaling programme and that 56 percent of people backed eating whale meat.
Support for whaling was strong among older men, with close to 80 percent of men between 40 and 70 favouring eating whale meat.
But the figure was nearly reversed among Japanese women in their 20s, among whom 58 percent opposed eating whale.
The Asahi survey comes despite other statistics, often cited by environmentalists, pointing out that most Japanese do not eat whale meat, which is rarely found outside speciality restaurants and stores.
Consumption of whale meat has decreased to 30 grams (one ounce) per person per year — equivalent to a slice of sashimi — compared with 2.5 kilograms in the early 1980s.
The only nations to defy the moratorium outright are Iceland and Norway, which on Thursday authorised its crews to harpoon 1,052 whales in the 2008 season.