Two Japanese whaling groups filed suit [press release, PDF] Friday against US-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) [advocacy website] in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website]. The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) [official website] and the Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha claim that the SSCS and its founder Paul Watson are preventing them from engaging in what they say is lawful activity under Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text, PDF], which allows for the taking of whales for scientific research purposes. SSCS, which regularly sends vessels to disrupt the whaling activity, dismissed the suit [press release] as "frivolous and nothing more than the whalers attempting to use litigation as a weapon."
Japan's whaling program remains extremely controversial. In May, Australia brought a complaint [materials] against Japan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] for its whaling practices in the Antarctic. Australia initiated proceedings [JURIST report] in May 2010, and oral arguments are scheduled to begin in May 2012. In July 2010, a Japanese court convicted New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on charges of assault, trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business for boarding a Japanese whaling vessel [JURIST reports] as part of an anti-whaling protest in January of that year. Berthune, who called the charges "bogus," was extradited to New Zealand, and he will not serve prison time unless he returns to Japan. Commercial whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Commission [official website] since 1986.