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It is a question that puzzles much of the world: Why does Japan thumb its nose at one of the environmental movement’s few lasting achievements — the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling?

With Japan’s whaling fleet again in Antarctic waters hunting minke and endangered fin whales — and planning later this year to kill humpbacks, too — DAVID McNEILL talks to politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and environmentalists and finds that far from weakening in the face of worldwide condemnation, Japan’s campaign to overturn the whale-hunting ban is gathering strength.

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