November 17, 2008

Japanese Whaling Ship Quietly Leaves Port Monday

The Nisshin Maru, Japan's main whaling ship, reportedly left harbor on Monday heading for the Antarctic on its first hunt since April when it was confronted by anti-whaling activists.

There was no official confirmation of the ship's departure, but Greenpeace reported that it left the port of Innoshima with plans to take about 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales.

"Waved off only by the crew's families and whaling officials, the factory ship Nisshin Maru left Innoshima with no fanfare," Greenpeace said in a statement.

The ship usually departs from its port with a large ceremony, but this time there was to be no publicity due to "safety reasons", according to a Japan Fisheries Agency official.

Earlier on Monday, Australia urged Japan to abandon its yearly hunt, launching its own scientific whaling study in the Southern Ocean to prove it was not necessary to kill the ocean mammals to study them.

"Modern-day research uses genetic and molecular techniques as well as satellite tags, acoustic methods and aerial surveys rather than grenade-tipped harpoons," said Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

"Australia does not believe that we need to kill whales to understand them," Garrett said.

An opinion poll commissioned by Greenpeace suggested that more Japanese support whaling than oppose it.

Japan Fisheries Agency officials also denied previous claims that the agency would cut its quota by 20 percent.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the group that dowsed the decks of the Nisshin Maru with butyric acid during last year's hunt, is reportedly setting out to protest again.

Japan's Fisheries Agency blamed Sea Shepherd and a dearth of whale sightings for their catch of only 551 minke whales, compared with a target of 850 minkes and 50 fin whales last season.

But Greenpeace will not be there this time. The group says it is concentrating on campaigning in Japan rather than on the high seas.

Two of its leading activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, are languishing in jail as a result of an attempt to highlight what the group claimed was the illegal disposal of meat from the Antarctic hunt.

"Constant pressure on Japan's whaling industry by both Greenpeace and the international community has reduced the fleet to sneaking out of port in a fog of crisis and scandal, desperate to avoid attention," Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Coordinator, said in a statement.

Japan, which considers whaling a cultural tradition, abandoned commercial whaling after agreeing to an international whaling moratorium in 1986, but began what it calls a scientific research whaling program the following year.


Image Caption: Fin Whales may reach lengths of up to 26.8 meters (88 ft). Courtesy NOAA


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