off to hunt humpbacks
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
- A defiant Japan embarked on its largest whaling expedition in decades Sunday,
targeting protected humpbacks for the first time since the 1960s despite
international opposition. An anti-whaling protest boat awaited the fleet
Bid farewell in a festive ceremony in the
southern port of Shimonoseki, four ships headed for the waters off Antarctica,
resuming a hunt that was cut short by a deadly fire last February that crippled
the fleet's mother ship.
The whalers plan to kill up to
50 humpbacks in what is believed to be the first large-scale hunt for the once
nearly extinct species since a 1963 moratorium in the Southern Pacific put the
giant marine mammals under international protection.
mission also aims to kill as many as 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales
in what Japan's Fisheries Agency says is its largest ever scientific whale
hunt. The expedition lasts through April.
Japan says it
needs to kill the animals in order to conduct research on their reproductive
and feeding patterns.
While scientific whale hunts are
allowed by the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, critics say Japan is
simply using science as a cover for commercial whaling.
The anti-whaling group Greenpeace said its protest ship,
Esperanza, was moored just outside Japan's territorial waters and would chase
the fleet to the southern ocean. There was no immediate word of an offshore
An IWC moratorium on commercial whaling
took effect in 1986, but Japan - where coastal villages have hunted whales for
hundreds of year - has killed almost 10,500 mostly minke and Brydes whales
under research permits since then.
Tokyo has argued
unsuccessfully for years for the IWC to overturn the moratorium.
The Japanese hunt, which puts meat from the whales on the
market despite waning appetite for the dish, is growing rapidly despite an
increasingly vocal antiwhaling movement
season's target of up to 1,035 whales is more than double the number the
country hunted a decade ago.