Japan plans to renew its research hunt for whales in the Antarctic, ending an almost two-year hiatus prompted by an international court ruling that its killing of whales could not be justified for scientific purposes.
The fleet is due to depart Tuesday with plans to take 333 whales in a hunt set to last into early March, the Fisheries Agency said in a statement on its website. That would be about a third of the previous target of 1,000.
Decades of over-hunting left many whale populations endangered and triggered an international campaign to save the animals that culminated with a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Since the ban, Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales by taking advantage of the treaty’s exception for scientific whaling. Conservationists call it a loophole and say the research could be accomplished by nonlethal means.
The United Nations International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its hunt in March 2014, and said that the country should not restart whaling unless it can prove the hunt is for scientific purposes and that research cannot be performed by nonlethal means.
The International Whaling Commission in September passed a resolution to limit the use of the scientific-research exception to the international ban on whaling. The Fisheries Agency said there would be a nonlethal component to the research.
Respecting the judgment, Japan sent whaling ships to the ocean last season but they returned with no catch.
Japan killed almost 95 percent of the 14,410 whales hunted for research since the moratorium, according to a lawsuit brought by Australia. In the 34 years prior to the moratorium, a total of 2,100 whales were killed for research, Australia said. Japan considers the hunting of whales to be part of its traditional lifestyle and has been able to keep its whaling fleet in working order through the research hunts.
Japan, Norway and Iceland have been among the biggest proponents of lifting the commercial moratorium to allow the hunting of healthy whale stocks.
Australia said it “strongly opposed” the Japanese decision and called the research program “unnecessary,” while New Zealand said it would seek an end to whaling off Antarctica.
“We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research,’ ” Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an emailed statement Saturday.
New Zealand will consider “all options” to end whaling in the Antarctic, acting Foreign Minister Todd McClay said in a separate statement.
Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd warned Japan on Sunday against resuming whale hunts in the Antarctic and called on the Australian government to intervene.
The government makes no secret of the fact that meat from the mammals — despite being killed ostensibly for research — is processed into food, and says the whale population in any case is big enough to allow sustainable whaling.