Australia has launched legal action at the International Court of Justice to stop Japan's whaling program, Japanese officials said Tuesday, calling the move "extremely regrettable".
"We were informed that Australia has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice regarding research whaling. We will discuss how to deal with it," said a fisheries agency official.
Hirofumi Hirano, Japan's top government spokesman, said: "I think it is extremely regrettable. The Japanese government will deal with it properly, based on our position."
Japan defends whaling as part of its cultural tradition and hunts the ocean giants under a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling that allows lethal "scientific research".
Australia has long protested the hunts, including annual whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters, and has in recent months hardened its stance, announcing last week that it would launch legal action in The Hague.
"We want to see an end to whales being killed in the name of science in the Southern Ocean," said Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett last week, vowing "to bring a permanent end to whaling in the Southern Ocean".
A Japanese foreign ministry official told AFP on Tuesday: "We are studying our strategy regarding the lawsuit. Details are yet to be decided, but we won't disclose our strategy even after we make a decision."