Japan’s annual whale hunt is a commercial slaughter of marine mammals dressed up as science, Australian lawyers argued Wednesday as they urged the United Nations’ highest court to ban the hunt in the waters around Antarctica. Australia’s case at the International Court of Justice, supported by New Zealand, is the latest step in years of attempts by governments and environmental groups to halt the Japanese whaling fleet’s annual trips to harpoon minke and fin whales for what Tokyo argues is scientific research allowed under international law. Australia calls the research claim a front for a commercial hunt that puts whale meat, considered a delicacy in Japan, on plates across the country. Commercial whaling was halted by a 1986 moratorium. “Japan seeks to cloak its ongoing commercial whaling in the lab coat of science,” Australia’s agent to the court, Bill Campbell told the 16-judge panel in the wood panelled Great Hall of Justice in The Hague. “You don’t kill 935 whales in a year to conduct scientific research. You don’t even need to kill one whale to conduct scientific research,” Campbell told journalists. Japan insists its hunt is legal under a 1946 convention regulating whaling. The legal case in The Hague covers Japan’s hunt in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, but Japan also hunts in the northwestern Pacific. “Japan’s research programs have been legally conducted for the purposes of scientific research, in accordance with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling,” Japan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Koji Tsuruoka said outside the courtroom. “Australia’s claim is invalid. Japan’s research whaling has been conducted for scientific research in accordance with international law.” But Australia argued that the scientific whaling program, under which thousands of whales have been killed in factory ships plying Antarctic waters, was set up simply to sidestep the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.