Japan Begins Offshore Research Hunt for 60 Whales off Northern Island of Hokkaido
TOKYO Japanese whaling ships returned to port Friday with the first three of 60 whales they plan to catch along the nation's northern coast as they began the season's research program that opponents criticize as commercial whaling.
The hunt is approved by the International Whaling Commission and Japanese whalers are allowed to catch up to 60 minke whales along the coast of Kushiro on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, said Fisheries Agency spokesman Ryoichi Nakamura.
Agency officials plan to study the whale's feeding patterns and its impact on fish stocks and report their findings to the IWC. The hunt ends on Oct. 31.
The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986 to protect the endangered mammals, but approved restricted hauls for research program a year later.
Environmental groups and anti-whaling nations, including Australia and Britain, say Japan's research whaling program is a disguised commercial whaling venture.
Most of the meat from Japan's research whaling is sold to restaurants to help fund the program. Friday's research hunt is authorized by the IWC in Japanese waters.
Japan also annually conducts an IWC approved 60-whale hunt off Japan's northeastern coast of Sanriku in Miyagi state during the first half of the year.
Japan had unsuccessfully pushed to overturn a 1986 ban on commercial whale hunts during the IWC's annual meeting in June in South Korea, where Japanese officials announced they plan to more than double its annual research hunts. Japan currently catches 440 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean and 210 others in the northwestern Pacific.
Source: Associated Press