• Kyodo

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Five Japanese ships returned to port Thursday morning after completing a research whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean in which 440 minke whales were killed.

The fleet’s 7,575-ton mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, with 115 crew members, and the 368-ton No. 2 Kyoshin Maru, an observation vessel with 20 on board, arrived at Shin Nagasaki port.

Hajime Ishikawa, head of the whaling mission, said at a port entry ceremony aboard the Nisshin Maru: “Despite obstruction by (the environmental group) Greenpeace, we were able to bring back samples and data. We are confident it will contribute to new knowledge.”

Two observation and whaling vessels, including the 812-ton Kyo Maru No. 1, arrived in Shimonoseki port in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the venue for the upcoming annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in May.

The fifth vessel of the whaling mission, by the Institute of Cetacean Research, returned to a port in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Japan started its scientific whaling in the Antarctic Ocean in 1987 to gather biological data on whales.

In the mission that began in November, the fleet caught and killed 440 minke whales, took photographs and conducted environmental studies.

The fleet spotted 2,289 groups of minke whales, the most found by such a mission, and confirmed the presence of 5,460 minke whales, according to the institute.

Many governments and organizations worldwide condemn the expeditions as a cover for commercial whaling, noting that meat from the whales is later sold in Japan for consumption.

Japan and Norway are seeking to resume commercial whaling despite a 16-year global moratorium, while other nations, including Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, are strongly opposed to it.

Japan is hosting the upcoming annual IWC meeting in May in Shimonoseki.

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