The group that conducts Japan's whaling says it expects to resume scientific whaling in the Antarctic, after this year's hunt was cancelled following an order by an international court.
Last month the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered a halt to Japan's decades-old programme of "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean, a practice environmentalists condemn, and Tokyo said it would abide by the decision and has cancelled the 2014-15 hunt.
But court papers filed in the United States by the Institute for Cetacean Research, which, with Kyodo Senpaku, actually carries out the whaling, said they expected to conduct hunts in future seasons on a modified programme.
In the filing in a Seattle court last week, the two groups sought an injunction against Sea Shepherd, an environmental group that has pursued Japan's whaling ships during their Antarctic hunts over the past few years. They noted that the Japanese government had not granted permits for the next season.
"Plaintiffs expect they will be conducting a Southern Ocean research programme for subsequent seasons that would be in accord with the ICJ decision," according to the papers.
An institute spokesman declined to comment, saying any decisions to resume whaling would be for the government.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, yesterday reiterated that the government had yet to make a decision but it may not take much longer.
"At the moment we are carefully analysing the content of the ruling," Suga said. "After analysing what the issues are, the government will come up with a policy course."
Japan has long maintained that most whale species are in no danger of extinction and scientific whaling is necessary to manage what it sees as a marine resource that, after the second world war, was an important protein source for an impoverished nation.
Japan also conducts separate hunts in the northern Pacific, while its fishermen engage in small-scale coastal whaling. An annual dolphin slaughter has also drawn global criticism.
The ICJ ruling said no further licences should be issued for scientific whaling, in which animals were first examined for research purposes before the meat was sold, noting that the research objectives had to be sufficient to "justify the lethal sampling".
Kyodo Senpaku, which owns Japan's whaling fleet, said yesterday it had urged agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to allow the northern Pacific whaling programme as usual, national broadcaster NHK said.
"The minister gave us strong encouragement by saying that he would firmly consider it, given that the research itself was not [challenged]," Ito said.