The Japanese whaling fleet — this year just a factory ship, three catchers and what is being called a “surveillance” vessel — left Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture in secret on Dec. 9, 2013 bound for the Southern Ocean and its annual hunt that will keep it away from home through March.

The fleet sails under the aegis of Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, a company formed in 1987 when six whaling firms that merged into the Nihon Kyodo Hogei in 1976 amalgamated with the Japan Whaling Association and the Institute of Cetacean Research to create the modern Institute of Cetacean Research — which operates under the wing of the government’s Fisheries Agency.

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