(Adds comments by Japanese government spokesman)
WELLINGTON Feb 10 (Reuters) - New Zealand summoned Japan's ambassador on Monday to protest the entry of a Japanese whaling ship into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after clashes earlier between whalers and vessels from the Sea Shepherd conservationist group.
New Zealand had asked Japan last week to order its whalers to steer clear of its maritime zone after vessels from both sides had collided in international waters.
Regardless of the warning, one whaler, the Shonun Maru No. 2, breached New Zealand's EEZ, which ranges up to 200 nautical miles offshore, as it shadowed a protest vessel, the Steve Irwin, on its way to refuel at the southern port of Dunedin.
"The New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo last week made it very clear we did not want members of the Japanese whaling fleet entering our EEZ," McCully said in a statement. "Today's meeting with the Ambassador served to further reiterate how deeply disrespectful the vessel's entry into our EEZ was."
McCully said New Zealand was strongly opposed to Japanese whaling in the southern oceans, and further action might be taken.
Japan's government spokesman defended the whaling ship's intrusion into the EEZ.
"We believe there was no problem with the movements of our ships from the point of view of international law," said Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary.
"This ship was taking protective moves and intruded on the EEZ as one part of that," he told a news conference.
Japan, which says that whaling is a cherished cultural tradition, hunts whales under a scientific research provision in the moratorium on whaling. (Reporting by Gyles Beckford and Elaine Lies in TOKYO, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)