David Guttenfelder/AP
Anti-whaling protesters from Greenpeace demonstrate outside a whaling conference in

Japan Prepares for Next Round of Whale Research, Hunting off Coast

April 22, 2009 05:30 PM
by Emily Coakley
The next phase of Japan’s annual whale hunting begins soon, angering activists who say the country’s whale research shouldn’t be lethal.

Activists Call for Research Without Killing

A Japanese fleet is preparing to launch another whale hunt this week, this time in its own waters, Agence France-Presse reported. This time the goal is 60 minke whales.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, though some countries, such as Iceland and Norway, have recently resumed it. Japan says the whales are captured and killed for research, though critics point out that the meat is packaged and sold.

"The purpose of the research is to collect basic data for resuming sustainable commercial whaling in the future," said Hiroko Furukawa of the Fisheries Agency, in an interview with AFP.

Activist groups such as Greenpeace International condemn the research.
Greg McNevin, the group’s spokesman, told AFP: “It doesn’t matter whether it’s 60 or 680 whales, it’s too many. They can perfectly well study whales without killing them.”

Japanese ships recently returned from a 100-day whaling research expedition to the Antarctic that launched in November.

Like last year, the Japanese fleet didn’t catch all the whales they had planned to on their trip to the Antarctic. The three-vessel fleet ended up with 679 minke whales and a single fin whale, the Los Angeles Times Outposts blog reported. The plan had been to catch up to 50 fin whales and 935 minkes.

Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd followed the fleet and "made it impossible for the whaling vessels to operate on 16 days of the 100-day whale hunt," AFP reported.

Background: Japan’s whaling research

The annual research whaling near Australia draws protestors who follow the Japanese fleet in their own boats. Members of the group Sea Shepherd hurl bottles of rancid butter and do other things to annoy the whalers and interfere with their work. Last year, the Japanese fleet caught approximately 300 fewer whales than the 950 humpback, fin and minke whales they had planned.

Whaling has also caused tension between the governments of Japan and Australia. Australia is planning to spend millions of dollars to show that whale research doesn’t have to be lethal.

But the country’s plans last year to cull kangaroo herds drew sharp criticism and allegations of hypocrisy from Japan.

Last fall, though, the head of Sea Shepherd told the media he had problems getting into Australia for the first time ever. He accused the Australian government of using "a passive-aggressive approach" to keep his group away.

"That treatment coincided with a request from Japan at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference for Australia to tighten the monitoring of anti-whaling organizations," said findingDulcinea.

While Iceland and Norway also engage in whaling, activists mostly focus their ire at Japan because the country has traditionally hunted more whales than its Scandinavian counterparts. Also, while Norwegian and Icelandic whalers stick to their own coasts, Japan hunts whales in Antarctica, in waters that are considered a whale sanctuary.   

Related Topic: Iceland raises whaling quotas

Iceland may be back on activists’ radar during the summer whaling season after the outgoing government substantially raised whaling quotas for minke and fin whales.

In January, the country’s ruling Independence party announced the increased quotas just before the Social Democratic Alliance party formed a new government. Iceland has suffered badly during the worldwide recession, and some saw the increased quotas as a way to help the economy. Others thought the negative publicity of whaling might hurt Iceland more. The new government alliance tried to reverse the rules, but was unable to. The quotas were originally planned for five years, but the alliance only has to honor them for one year, according to findingDulcinea.

Previously, the quotas were 40 minke whales and 9 fin whales. The new rules say up to 150 minke and 150 fin whales can be captured.

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