TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he will abide by the court ruling that banned the nation's controversial Antarctic whale hunt.
The conservative leader told Japan's chief whaling negotiator that he would respect the judgement issued this week by the International Court of Justice.
"It is a pity and I am deeply disappointed," Abe was quoted as saying by Japan's chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka during a meeting at his office.
"But I will follow the ruling," Abe said, according to Tsuruoka, who spoke to reporters after meeting the premier.
Abe's comment came after the United Nations' Hague-based (ICJ) said Monday that Japan's whaling programme was a commercial activity disguised as science and said Tokyo must revoke existing whaling licences.
Australia, backed by New Zealand, hauled Japan before the ICJ in 2010 in a bid to end the annual Southern Ocean hunt.
Tokyo has used a legal loophole in the 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allowed it to continue slaughtering the mammals, ostensibly so it could gather scientific data.
However, it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts can end on dining tables.
Public consumption of whale meat in Japan has steadily and significantly fallen in recent years and there was little support for whaling itself.
But aggressive anti-whaling campaigns hardened sentiment among the Japanese public, who came to see the issue as an attack on differing cultural values.
Some legal experts have suggested Japan might simply redesign its whaling programme to skirt the ICJ ruling, but Australia and New Zealand are expected to keep up the diplomatic pressure to ensure Tokyo abides by the spirit of the pronouncement.
Japan has a coastal whaling programme which is not covered by the ban.