THE HAGUE — Japan launched an impassioned defense Tuesday of its harpooning of whales in the icy seas around Antarctica, insisting the hunt is legal because it gathers valuable scientific data that could pave the way to a resumption of sustainable whaling in the future.
The country is arguing a case brought by Australia to the United Nations’ highest judicial organ that seeks to outlaw the annual killing of hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters.
‘‘It is true that Japan takes and kills whales,’’ the country’s deputy foreign minister, Koji Tsuruoka, told the International Court of Justice, on the first day of arguments. ‘‘Should we be ashamed of it? Even if some people believe we should, that does not mean we are in breach of international law.’’
Lawyers for Australia argue that Japan’s scientific whaling program was set up simply to sidestep a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Meat from the whales ends up on plates in homes and restaurants across Japan, where the flesh is considered a delicacy.