From: Associated Press
Published May 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Japanese Whaling Fleet Departing on Four-Month Expedition

TOKYO — A fleet of four ships was set Tuesday to depart on a four-month expedition to hunt whales for Japan's controversial research whaling program.

The expedition plans to catch 260 Minke, sei, Bryde's and sperm whales from Pacific Ocean waters northeast of Japan before returning in mid-September, the Institute of Cetacean Research said in a statement. The institute conducts Japan's whale research program under authorization from the government's Fisheries Agency.

The expedition's purpose is to learn more about the roles different whale species play in their environments, and study the impact of water pollution on marine ecology, it said.

Under Japan's research whaling program, hundreds of whales are hunted and killed each year in the waters of Antarctica and the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The dead whales are studied and afterward their meat is sold to help fund the program.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 to protect the endangered mammals, but allows limited hunts for research purposes. Opponents, however, have called Japan's research hunts merely a way for it to dodge the ban.

Japan maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture. It says whale stocks have sufficiently recovered since 1986 to allow the resumption of limited hunts of certain species.

The government also says research hunts are needed to establish reliable information on whale populations and habits. Opponents say non-lethal means could be used to achieve the same goal.

Source: Associated Press

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