• The Associated Press

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Japan has caught 59 minke whales in its latest hunt as part of its research program, an official said Tuesday.

Critics have denounced Japan’s research whaling as thinly disguised commercial whaling.

The 49-day expedition off Kushioro, Hokkaido, ended Sunday. Authorized by the International Whaling Commission, the catch was limited to a maximum of 60 whales.

The hunt was purportedly designed to study the impact of the mammals’ feeding on fish stocks. The Fisheries Agency will report its findings to the IWC.

The whales were caught in waters some 35 to 50 km off the coast of northern Hokkaido in the Pacific Ocean, said Hideki Moronuki, a senior official at the Fisheries Agency.

This was farther off the coast than in past expeditions because sauries, which the minkes feed on, failed to drift as far south along the Hokkaido coast as normal, he said.

The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986 to protect the endangered mammals but approved restricted hauls for research a year later.

The latest hunt was the second authorized by the IWC in Japanese territorial waters. It had approved a 50-whale haul in 2002.

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