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Japan Sets Off On Whaling Hunt Despite Protests

File photo: Japanese whaling ship, Yushin Maru. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Harumi Ozawa
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 15, 2006
Japanese ships on Wednesday set off to hunt up to 860 whales in the Antarctic, going ahead with its annual five-month whaling expedition despite the risk of clashes with environmentalists. Six whaling ships left Shimonoseki port in western Yamaguchi prefecture with a plan to kill about 850 Antarctic minke whales and 10 fin whales, the Fisheries Agency said.

Two Greenpeace boats harassed the whaling fleet last year to demand an end to Japanese whaling, with one activist nearly drowning as he tried to save a minke whale from a harpoon.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan has continued hunting for what it calls scientific research.

Japan, however, makes no secret that the meat from the hunt winds up on dinner plates and says the food is part of its national culture.

The Fisheries Agency said Japan has also killed a total of 351 whales of four types in the Northwest Pacific this year.

"It is research whaling purely for the purpose of collecting necessary data," a Fisheries Agency official said.

But most Western nations, led by Australia and New Zealand, argue that whales are endangered and that the hunt is cruel.

Greenpeace urged the Japanese government to keep the fleet in port and stop the "research" program.

"This program is just a flimsy excuse to push for a resumption of commercial whaling, despite having no market needs in Japan," Greenpeace International ocean campaigner John Frizell said in a statement.

Whale meat consumption in Japan dropped sharply after the commercial moratorium but has since been growing, with the government encouraging its introduction in schools to ensure another generation eats the local dish.

Whaling nations argue that the species of whale they hunt are abundant and exist in sufficient numbers to pose a threat to fish stocks.

The only nations to openly defy the moratorium on whaling are Iceland, which announced last month it would start commercial whaling, and Norway.

Japan's research whaling killed 853 antarctic minke whales and 10 fin whales in the last hunting in the Antarctic, which was conducted in 2005 and 2006.

According to estimates agreed on by the International Whaling Commission, there are close to 70,000 minke whales in the central North Atlantic, of which around 43,600 are in Icelandic waters. Fin whales in the central North Atlantic number around 25,800.

The Commission's last talks, held in June in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, saw deep divisions between whaling and anti-whaling nations.

Japan and other pro-whaling nations for the first time won a majority in voting, passing a non-binding resolution saying that the 1986 moratorium on hunting was no longer necessary.

But there is no immediate danger of ending the ban on whaling -- a move that requires a 75 percent majority on the commission.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
International Whaling Commission
Follow the Whaling Debate

Iceland Whale Meat Heading To Japan
London (AFP) Nov 6, 2006
An Icelandic company which has killed seven fin whales in the past two weeks plans to export the meat to Japan, its CEO an interview with The Daily Telegraph published on Monday. Iceland announced last month that it had authorised its whalers to hunt 30 minke whales and nine fin whales through August 2007 for export, thereby making it only the second country after Norway to outright defy a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

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