Japanese fleet returns from Antarctic hunt with 333 whales

MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Yahoo News 1 Apr 17;

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's whaling fleet returned home Friday after killing 333 whales in the Antarctic, achieving its goal for the second year under a revised research whaling program.

The Fisheries Agency said the five-ship fleet finished its four-month expedition without major interference from anti-whaling activists who have attempted to stop it in the past.

Japan says the hunt was for ecological research. Research whaling is allowed as an exception to a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. Opponents of the Japanese program say it's a cover for commercial whaling because the whales are sold for food.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's Antarctic whaling program should stop because it wasn't scientific as Tokyo had claimed. Japan conducted non-lethal whaling research in the Antarctic in 2015, and revised its program in 2016 by reducing the catch quota to about one-third of what it used to kill.

"It was great that we have achieved our plan. We will steadily continue our research toward a resumption of commercial whaling," Fisheries Agency official Shigeto Hase said at a welcome ceremony in Shimonoseki, home port for the fleet's mother ship, Nisshin Maru.

Officials said the whalers used parts of the whales to determine their age, nutrition, and reproductive conditions. Opponents say such studies can be done using non-lethal methods.

Kitty Block, executive vice president of Humane Society International, an animal protection group based in Washington D.C., said Japan is needlessly killing whales every year. "It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end," she said in a statement.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries as a source of protein and cheaper alternative to other meats. Its whale catch has fallen in recent years in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat. Protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have also contributed to the decline.

Critics say it's a dying industry, but Japan's government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain the whaling operations, saying it's a Japanese cultural tradition that must be preserved.


Japan kills more than 300 whales in annual Antarctic hunt
Whaling fleet returns to port after slaughtering hundreds of minke whales, in defiance of moratorium on hunting and global criticism
Agence France-Presse Yahoo News 31 Mar 17;

A Japanese whaling fleet returned to port on Friday after an annual Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, as Tokyo pursues the programme in defiance of global criticism.

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, flouting a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

The fleet consisted of five ships, three of which arrived on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the country’s Fisheries Agency said.

More than 200 people, including crew members and their families, gathered in the rain for a 30-minute ceremony in front of the Nisshin Maru, the fleet’s main ship, according to an official of the Shimonoseki city government.

In a press release, the agency described the mission as “research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea”.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (IJC) call that a fiction and say the real purpose is simply to hunt whales for their meat.

Anticipating the fleet’s return, animal protection charity Humane Society International called for an end to Japanese whaling. “Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed,” said Kitty Block, the group’s executive vice-president.

“It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.”

Japan also caught 333 minke whales in the previous season ending in 2016 after a one-year hiatus prompted by an IJC ruling, which said the hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science and ordered Tokyo to end it.

Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.

Tokyo exploits a loophole allowing whales to be killed for “scientific research” and claims it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

But it also makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served in school lunches.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-second world war years, when the country was desperately poor. But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they “never” or “rarely” eat whale meat.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japan’s 2014-15 mission carried out only “non-lethal research” such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Past missions have been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalists Sea Shepherd. A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced “no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members” by the group.

He attributed that partially to Japan dispatching patrol ships to protect the fleet.

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