Tsunami-hit Japan may find sympathy from other nations at this year's global whaling meeting, but this should not cloud opposition to killing whales, Australian minister Tony Burke said Monday.

As the chronically deadlocked International Whaling Commission (IWC) is set to begin a four-day meet in Jersey, many Japanese coastal communities have yet to recover from the devastation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Environment Minister Burke said while there was a genuine humanitarian need in Japan, it would be a "very long bow" for anyone to try to confuse this with the case for whaling.

"I think the situation that Japan finds itself in brings about a strong argument for people to have a humanitarian response to Japan," he told ABC Radio.

"That is about looking after the Japanese people and has nothing at all to do with commercial whaling."

Japan's whaling fleet, which conducts an annual hunt in the Southern Ocean using a legal loophole allowing lethal scientific research to get around a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, was badly affected by the tsunami.

The annual operation has long been criticised by Australia, which has instigated legal action against it -- taking its case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in a bid to remove the loophole.

Hoewver, Burke said Canberra would not take a legal injunction out against Japan to stop this year's hunt -- which would normally begin towards the start of the southern hemisphere summer in November.

Burke said before heading to the IWC meet that he hoped the 89-nation gathering, split evenly between pro- and anti-whaling nations, would advance plans for scientific research which do not involve the killing of the giant sea mammals.

"And also it is important for us to just draw a line in the sand and make it clear that our position, the position of Australia against so-called scientific whaling doesn't shift one bit," he said.

The IWC was rocked last year by published accusations that Japan used cash and development aid to buy votes from otherwise indifferent Caribbean and African nations. Japan denied the charges.