From: Mike Corder, Associated Press
Published October 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Conservationists Claim Japan Has Illegally Killed Whales in Australian Waters

SYDNEY, Australia — An animal rights group claimed Tuesday that Japan has illegally killed hundreds of whales in an Australian whale sanctuary, and it launched legal action aimed at stopping the hunt.


Humane Society International (HSI) spokeswoman Nicole Beynon said Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku had killed more than 400 minke whales in Antarctic waters that make up part of Australia's economic zone and have been declared a whale sanctuary by Australia's government.


Beynon said evidence backing her group's case was taken from reports filed by the whaling company at the end of each year's hunt in Antarctic waters.


The Australian-based group filed papers with the Federal Court on Tuesday, seeking a hearing in the case mid-November.


Beynon said the group was taking legal action because the Australian government, which campaigns forcefully against whaling at international meetings, had failed to do so.


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In Japan, Kyodo Senpaku official Makoto Ito said, "Japan's research whaling is a legitimate activity allowed under the international agreement, and we are quite puzzled by the lawsuit."


Ito said he could not comment further because the company was still trying to get more details on the court case.


The Australian Whale Sanctuary was created in 2000 under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Beynon said.


"If the application is successful, HSI plans to seek a declaration that the hunt in the Australian Whale Sanctuary is illegal and ask for it to be restrained," the group said in a statement.


"We hope HSI's case in the Federal Court will embarrass the whaling company and the Japanese government and push the Australian government into prosecuting the whaling themselves," Benyon said.


Linus Grant, an environment Department spokesman, said the government was pressuring Japan to abandon whaling through diplomatic channels.


"The government ... believes that its interests are far better served by continuing its very active efforts through the international whaling commission: diplomatically putting pressure on," he said.


The maximum sentence for illegally killing whales is two years' imprisonment or a fine of $79,600.


Japan is the world's prime consumer of whale meat. Like Iceland, it hunts whales for research, which is permitted by international whaling authorities. Environmentalists say those programs amount to commercial whaling.


Source: Associated Press


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