Japanese whalers hunt humpbacks
A Japanese whaling fleet left today for an expedition that activists say will for the first time target humpbacks, a perennial favourite among whale-watchers.
A fleet of ships led by the 8,000-tonne Nisshin Maru left Shimonoseki port in southwestern Japan for
the Antarctic Ocean around midday on an outing that operators say is for research purposes.
Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the fleet's mission is to hunt whales for commercial purposes, adding that its Esperanza campaign ship was in waters off Japan, waiting to intercept the fleet in the coming days to demand its return home.
Japan, which says whaling is a cherished cultural tradition, abandoned commercial whaling in accordance with an international moratorium in 1986, but began the next year to conduct what it calls scientific research whaling.
"Although we are subjected to vicious blocking tactics by environmental groups, we have to continue this into the future," Kyodo News quoted Hajime Ishikawa, a leader of the research team, as saying at a departure ceremony earlier in the day.
Greenpeace said that if the fleet fails to heed its demands to return home, the Esperanza will follow the expedition into southern waters to protest against the hunt.
"It's clearly commercial whaling in disguise and the aim for the Japanese government is to restart commercial whaling," Karli Thomas, the Esperanza's expedition leader, told Reuters by phone from aboard the ship. "There's a moratorium against commercial whaling, and that needs to be enforced."
Whale meat ends up in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, but appetite is fading for what is now considered a delicacy.
The fleet aims to catch around 850 minke whales, which Japan says are now abundant enough to take, in addition to some 50 fin whales, which environmentalists say are endangered, and 50 humpbacks, which are favourites of whale-watchers for their distinctive silhouettes and acrobatic leaps from the water.