KITAKYUSHU – Whaling vessels left the ports of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Habu in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Saturday to hunt whales in the Northwest Pacific through late August.
The three-vessel flotilla led by the Nisshin Maru plans to capture 260 minke and other types of whales under the scientific research program, according to the Institute of Cetacean Research, which is conducting the hunt.
The fleet halted its hunt in the Antarctic Ocean and returned to Japan in February after being obstructed by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society antiwhaling group. The annual mission usually runs until March.
The Tokyo-based institute said it would be its 18th expedition in the Northwest Pacific. The institute said the whalers haven’t encountered any obstruction from antiwhaling activities so far, but said they remain on high alert.
Since the March 11 quake and tsunami hit the northeast, the vessels have been helping transport goods to disaster-hit areas.
Japan officially halted commercial whaling in line with an international moratorium, but in 1987 started conducting what it terms scientific research missions. Environmentalists have condemned them as a cover for the continuation of commercial whaling.
At its annual meeting last June, the International Whaling Commission discussed a proposal to allow Japan to hunt whales in its own coastal areas in exchange for reducing its annual catch quota for research whaling, but the proposal was deferred.