Japan’s “scientific” whalers have sailed forth for the waters around Antarctica with a scaled-back goal of killing 333 minke whales for research, amid threats of legal action by Australia and a possible confrontation with a Greenpeace vessel.
The 333 catch -down from more than 800 in the previous voyage- is one installment on a 12-year program that will see about 4,000 whales harvested over a four-year period, all for scientific research the Japanese say.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that Australia was considering dragging Japan back before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a last-ditch effort to halt the whale hunt.
In April, 2014, Japan suspended the Antarctic whaling after the ICJ ruled that the hunt was not for scientific research but was a cover for commercial whaling.
After being examined, the whale carcasses are then sold to restaurants and schools in Japan.
The Japanese whalers modified their program to meet the complaints and then resubmitted it, said Joji Morishita, Japan’s representative on the International Whaling Commission.
The projected harvest for 2015-16 is down from the 855 Minke and 50 humpback whales of the previous year’s voyage.
As the Japanese whaling flotilla left its home port near Tokyo, the Sea Shepherd -the flagship of Greenpeace- set sail from its home port in Melbourne bound for the same waters to confront and disrupt the Japanese whaling mission.
Canberra has denounced the Japanese expedition to Antarctic waters in strong terms, with the government promising to send customs boats to monitor the activities.
“We do not accept the concept of killing whales for so-called ‘scientific research,’” said environment minister Greg Hunt.
Japan, too, is sending some patrol boats to help protect the whaling fleet, setting up a potential at sea confrontation between the Japanese, Australia and Greenpeace.
There is also some concern in Japan that the renewed whaling campaign might prejudice Canberra against the pending $35 billion tender to build a modern fleet of submarines for the Australian Navy.
The bidding closed Nov. 30 with a decision in early 2016.
According to Morishita, the scientific objectives of the whale hunt are to obtain data on migration patterns, reproductive rates and age spread among the minke whale population.
The Japanese maintain that the needed age data can only be obtained through “lethal sampling,” that is killing whales.
It has suggested that non-lethal means may be developed.
This research anticipates an eventual lifting of the current ban on whaling, which is recognized by all other nations except Iceland and Norway.
The latter two nations make no bones that they are involved in commercial fishing and see whales as being no different from other hunted creatures of the sea.
Japan on the other hand observes the ban on whaling but insists that its scientific activities are exempted.
It cites other international agreements, such as the Law of the Sea, to justify its activities.