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While U.S. President Bill Clinton was signing legislation to protect the oceans, Japan expanded its whale hunt in the North Pacific. In defiance of international pleas from Clinton, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair and other leaders, Japan has gone beyond hunting smaller minke whales to include the larger sperm and Bryde’s whales.

Beginning with the killing of about 300 minke whales in 1987, the Japanese research program now claims 440 minke whales annually in the Antarctic. In 1994, Japan expanded its lethal research to the North Pacific with the additional killing of 100 minke whales. Most recently, Japan announced plans to kill 10 sperm and 50 Bryde’s whales.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in the mid-1980s. Thereafter, Japan began a lethal research program in the Antarctic, under an exemption to the convention. Most IWC member countries join the United States in opposing the lethal take of whales for research purposes, and have passed numerous resolutions — most recently last month in Australia — calling on Japan to discontinue its program.

The Japanese argument that all of these whales must be killed in order to collect certain scientific data is preposterous. In fact, members of the IWC scientific committee have repeatedly criticized the basis of the Japanese hunt. The U.S. and other delegations have even offered Japan scientific assistance in conducting a nonlethal research program to collect the kind of data it seeks.

Another alarming aspect of Japan’s program is that the whale meat from these hunts finds its way to Japanese fish markets and onto restaurant menus. The Japanese research hunt not only threatens whales that have been safe from harpoon guns since 1987, but it also threatens the worldwide ban on commercial whaling. We are concerned that the expansion of the Japanese hunt to larger whales is aimed at paving the way for an outright resumption of commercial whaling.

The Clinton-Gore administration and other governments forcefully oppose Japan’s latest proposal to take sperm and Bryde’s whales. Because Japan has chosen to ignore these diplomatic pleas, we are considering options including trade measures under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967. Shortly, I will have to decide whether to request the president to consider imposing trade measures against Japan.

America and Japan share a whaling tradition. However, in our once legendary whaling centers, whale-watching boats have replaced whaling boats, to the benefit of whales and whaling communities alike. It’s time for Japan to allow these magnificent creatures to recover after decades of killing.

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