April 23, 2010

Japan Whaling Ships Set Sail For Spring Hunts

On Thursday, a fleet of Japanese harpoon ships launched their springtime coastal whale hunt with expectations of killing 60 whales during what the country considers scientific research.

The expedition started just 10 days after the last Japanese whaling ship returned from an Antarctic hunt, which found harassment by environmental activists.

Japan's fisheries agency said four whaling ships and one research vessel would hunt mink whales until early June, which is before a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The agency said that the whale hunt aims "to collect the data necessary to evaluate the impact of whale predation on fishery resources."

Commercial whaling has been banned across the globe since 1986, but Japan justifies its hunts by calling it "scientific research."  However, it is no secret that the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.

The hunts have faced intensifying international condemnation, particularly from Australia, which has threatened legal action against Japan this year.

The U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society succeeded in reducing the Antarctic catch to 507 whales in recent months through a sustained campaign of high-seas harassment.  This was down from Japan's target of 765-935.

News reports have said that Japanese envoys proposed cutting the country's annuals Antarctic quota to 360-440 southern minke whales.

Japan would want the right to resume full-fledged commercial whaling rather than "research" whaling in return.

The Kyodo news agency said that Japan made the proposal at an informal meeting of 12 IWC members, including anti-whaling nations like the U.S. and Australia.

IWC members are discussing a proposal to end a standoff between whaling nations, including Norway and Iceland, and their opponents by legalizing a limited return to commercial whaling with strict quotas.