SENDAI - Four whaling vessels left a port in Miyagi Prefecture on Thursday to take part in the last of what the government calls a scientific research program before the country’s exit from the International Whaling Commission at the end of June.
The ships, which left the port of Ayukawa, will join four other vessels from different areas of Japan on the mission to catch up to 80 minke whales in April and May off Miyagi and Aomori prefectures to gather data on the whale population, including approximate ages.
They will also look at the stomach content of the animals with a view toward improving management of marine resources. The data will be used as a reference for commercial whaling, which Japan plans to resume in its exclusive economic zone for the first time in 31 years starting in July.
“Scientific data collected during past missions support today’s whale hunts. We’ll make efforts to conduct commercial whaling in a sustainable manner,” Shigeki Takaya, head of the Fisheries Agency’s whaling office, said at a ceremony to mark the ships’ departure, attended by some 100 crew members and butchers of whale meat.
The mission, organized by the Association for Community-Based Whaling in Fukuoka, involves vessels from the town of Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture, known for its whaling and dolphin-hunting culture, and the city of Minamiboso in Chiba Prefecture.
After whale hunts planned off Miyagi and Aomori, the vessels will move to waters off Hokkaido to engage in commercial whaling.
Although Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 in line with a moratorium adopted in 1982 by the IWC, the country has hunted whales for what it claims to be scientific research since 1987, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.
Tokyo notified the IWC of its pullout in December after its proposal to resume commercial whaling and change decision-making rules at the body was rejected at its annual meeting in September amid a long-standing rift between pro- and anti-whaling nations.